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Tate Artist Resigns; Says Institution Fails Survivors of Sexual Assault

Tate’s artist in residence Liv Wynter calls director Maria Balshaw’s comments on harassment a ‘slap in the face’

Liv Wynter. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Holly Whitaker

Liv Wynter. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Holly Whitaker

Liv Wynter. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Holly Whitaker

Liv Wynter has quit as the Tate’s artist in residence for education, schools and learning, saying that the gallery has failed survivors of sexual assault and failed to foster a diverse workforce. Wynter said that she hoped her departure would ‘spotlight the invisible inequalities of the institution’. In her resignation statement, Wynter singled out recent controversial comments made by Tate director Maria Balshaw for criticism.

Last month, responding to various harassment claims within the arts industry, Balshaw told art critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston during an interview with the Times: ‘I personally have never suffered any such issues … Then, I wouldn’t … I was raised to be a confident woman who, when I encountered harassment, would say, “Please don’t” … or something rather more direct.’ Balshaw later apologized on Instagram after criticism of her comments, clarifying: ‘it is the perpetrators who are responsible for their behaviour and not the women who are subjected to it.’

Wynter said that, as an activist campaigning against cuts to domestic violence services and ‘the erasure of women from the institution’, Balshaw’s initial comments came as a ‘huge slap in the face’. Wynter wrote: ‘I cannot describe to you the personal shame I feel as a survivor of domestic violence, to work for someone who could think so little of me whilst simultaneously profiting off of my ‘survivorness’ and  the work I dare to make about it.’

Wynter also referenced a separate incident in which Balshaw was criticized for comments made while introducing last month’s Art Fund ‘Why Collect?’ report. Balshaw said that she was delighted to see a ‘group of young men’ watching the film Ashes (2002–15) by artist Steve McQueen, who is black, ‘with their fried chicken lunch’. Balshaw later clarified that in her speech, ‘I made no reference to their ethnicity and that was not the point I was making.’

Wynter told frieze that at an internal meeting for gallery staff hosted at Tate Modern last week, Balshaw offered an ‘insufficient apology’ for her comments, ‘pleading ignorance’ by saying that she did not understand how the comments regarding ‘fried chicken’ might be construed as racist, and claimed that the Times had taken her remarks out of context. While resigning from the gallery had been a ‘a train of thought for a couple of weeks’, Wynter told frieze, the meeting with Balshaw cemented the decision. ‘Maria seemed to have no accountability’, Wynter wrote in her resignation statement. ‘If she wishes to wear this apparent racial and sexist ignorance as a badge, I am forced to question, how did she become appointed to the role?’

Wynter also claimed that the Tate had failed to recruit a diverse workforce – she said that the gallery needed to diversify its staff as well as ‘acknowledge grassroots activism that falls outside of a capitalist gaze’.

In a statement sent to frieze, Balshaw responded: ‘Throughout my career I have been dedicated to addressing issues of gender, race and equality and I apologise if my recent comments have offended anyone. When I became Director of Tate, I set out my vision to make this the most culturally inclusive museum organisation in the world, and I am truly committed to that vision. I have spoken publicly about my values on many occasions over the years and I will continue to argue for equality and inclusion at every opportunity.’

Meanwhile, the Tate has been at the centre of another controversy regarding sexual harassment, with the campaigning group We Are Not Surprised calling on the institution last month to cut all ties with Anthony d’Offay, the art dealer accused of multiple counts of sexual misconduct. Responding at the time, the Tate said that it was ‘unable to discuss this matter at the present time’.

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