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Artist seeks Royal Academy apology after work withdrawn from gift shop

Jess De Wahls published her views about sex and gender in a blog in 2019, which led to a backlash on social media.

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The Royal Academy withdrew the works of Jess De Wahls from its gift shop following a backlash over her views (Nick Ansell/PA)

The Royal Academy withdrew the works of Jess De Wahls from its gift shop following a backlash over her views (Nick Ansell/PA)

The Royal Academy withdrew the works of Jess De Wahls from its gift shop following a backlash over her views (Nick Ansell/PA)

An artist whose work was withdrawn from the gift shop at the Royal Academy of Arts in London has said she wants an apology and may pursue legal action over the decision.

Jess De Wahls said she noticed “a mob” being “mounted against” her on social media following comments she made about sex and gender in 2019.

In a blog post on her website, she wrote: “I have no issue with somebody who feels more comfortable expressing themselves as if they are the other sex (or in whatever way they please for that matter).

“However, I cannot accept people’s unsubstantiated assertions that they are in fact the opposite sex to when they were born and deserve to be extended the same rights as if they were born as such.”

Following the backlash, she said she was contacted by officials from the Academy, who told her they were investigating, and she had responded.

However, De Wahls claimed she found out the following day that her work would no longer be stocked after friends sent her screenshots posted on the Academy’s Instagram stories, which announced the decision, and only received a call from the institution after that.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said she would like an apology.

“They frantically tried to call me the day they realised that was a really bad PR decision,” she said. “They contacted me the day after they posted it on social media. There was no point to that conversation… I don’t know what they were looking for.”

Asked if she would pursue a recourse in law if she did not get an apology, she said: “I might do. But, to be honest with you, right now, I have the feeling that there is a hope within that institution, which is mind-boggling to me, that this just will go away… my inbox and the feedback I’ve been getting from the general public is quite the opposite.

This isn't going away. This is a conversation that needs to happen, it needs to happen in public. They will have to talk eventuallyJess De Wahls

“This isn’t going away. This is a conversation that needs to happen, it needs to happen in public. They will have to talk eventually.”

Discussing her views further, she said: “The only thing I can say to that is I have compassion for the journey they’re going through, but I can’t make myself believe something I don’t believe to be true.

“I find it interesting that in this entire conversation we now talk about the nature of biological sex, that there’s only two sexes, as an opinion. When has that become an opinion? This is the bit where it doesn’t remove my compassion from that person, but I don’t exist to validate other people’s idea of themselves.”

De Wahls specialises in textile pieces and often features designs involving women, ovaries and flowers.

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The Royal Academy has been contacted for comment.

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