A British artist has resigned from her position as artist-in-residence at the Tate Modern over what she describes as the museum’s “appalling response to sexual harassment and violence” as well as its lack of diversity. Liv Wynter, who began her residency in the museum’s education program last year, said her decision stems from recent comments made by Tate director Maria Balshaw on sexual harassment in the art world. Her departure, she said, is only one step in her continued fight against what she sees as “invisible inequalities” in the institution.
“I’m hoping that I caused a rupture in opening a space, and I’m going to keep pushing the space open,” Wynter told Hyperallergic. “I do think there’s more to come from this action, and I hope there will be further engagement between myself and the Tate.”
Balshaw had come under fire last month after The Times asked her about allegations of sexual harassment against UK art dealer Anthony d’Offay, one of the Tate’s donors. The director said she felt the museum gave a “measured response” in suspending contact with him. She added: “But I personally have never suffered any such issues. Then, I wouldn’t. I was raised to be a confident women who, when I encountered harassment, would say, ‘Please don’t … or something rather more direct.” Balshaw later apologized in an Instagram comment, writing that she did not intend to victim-blame. “To be clear, it is the perpetrators who are responsible for their behaviour and not the women who are subjected to it,” she wrote.
In her resignation letter, Wynter said that Balshaw’s comments “come as a huge slap in the face.
“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,” she wrote.
Last Wednesday, the artist attended a public meeting at the museum where Balshaw addressed her comments. But the director, Wynter said, appeared to take no accountability for her words, saying that the Times had taken them out of context. Balshaw also acknowledged comments she made about it being “brilliant” to see young men in a gallery watching a video work by Steve McQueen while “eating their fried chicken.” The director said she did not understand how those remarks were racist, according to Wynter.
A spokesperson for the Tate told Hyperallergic that Balshaw had apologized during an open discussion with staff and restated her commitment to inclusivity and diversity. Balshaw also released a statement, in which she noted that she has been dedicated to addressing issues of gender, race, and equality throughout her career.
“I apologize if my recent comments have offended anyone,” she said. “When I became Director of Tate, I set out my vision to make this the most culturally inclusive museum organization 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.”
Wynter, an activist who self-identifies as a queer, working-class woman, also expressed anger at the Tate’s failure to foster diversity. In her letter, she argued that the museum chooses to work with marginalized identities as a “distraction technique” while it does not actively work to diversify its own staff.
She writes: “Tate has only 13% of their workforce that identify as Black or Ethnic Minority. Tate has only 9% of its staff that identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Every single director is white.”
She called on the museum to balance those numbers and support the work of grassroots activists. Although she did not describe any specific actions she has planned for the future, Wynter made it clear that she will continue to use her voice and art to speak out against these issues.
“I’m not going to kick and fuss and drop it,” she told Hyperallergic. “I have always made work about injustice, and I will continue to do that.
“I also hope that other artists will be inspired to make statements and draw boundaries and question people that are paying them. Just because someone is paying us doesn’t mean we should live in fear of them. We need to create spaces where we can empower each other to speak out and say this isn’t cool.”