Editor’s Note: The following story contains mentions of sexual assault and harassment. To reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline, call 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.
Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye has withdrawn from multiple roles and positions in the fallout of a Financial Times report that outlined three female former employees’ allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. In the report published yesterday, July 4, three anonymized women accuse Adjaye of abusing his power as their superior and as a well-known architect to coerce them into sexual activity. Adjaye, known for his winning design of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture building and other architectural projects spanning several continents, called the allegations “untrue.”
In a statement released by the United Kingdom-based crisis management communications firm Kendal Advisory quoted in the Financial Times, Adjaye vehemently denied any claims of “sexual misconduct, abuse or criminal wrongdoing.” A follow-up report from the New York Times noted that the architect said he would step down from ceremonial and trustee roles so as to prevent the allegations from “becoming a distraction.” It has since been announced that Adjaye will no longer work on the competition-winning design of the UK Holocaust Memorial in London and has resigned as an architectural advisor to the mayor of London. (Hyperallergic has reached out to the memorial’s organizers to clarify whether the architect was suspended or stepped down voluntarily.)
In the United States, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts, which was slated to show Adjaye’s sculpture “Asaase” (2021) this fall, is putting the project on “indefinite hold,” according to the nonprofit The Trustees, which manages the property. The Counterpublic Triennial in St. Louis, which includes a sculptural commission by Adjaye at the Griot Museum of Black History, issued a public statement on July 5 acknowledging the allegations. “We will assess the best next steps in the days to come in dialogue with our community,” the statement says.
The Princeton University Art Museum and the Studio Museum in Harlem have yet to confirm with Hyperallergic whether Adjaye will or will not continue his design work and planning for their new buildings in New Jersey and New York City respectively.
According to the Financial Times report, the three former employees are Black single mothers who knew Adjaye personally prior to their employment with his transcontinental architecture firm Adjaye Associates. Under the pseudonyms Maya, Gene, and Dunia, the three women shared their accounts of Adjaye’s alleged misconduct and exploitation, ranging from his firm’s failure to secure work visas and pay their salaries in a timely fashion to instances of sexual assault and sexual misconduct, wrongful dismissal from the workplace without warning, and comments as well as physical behavior from Adjaye that they characterize as “misogynoir” (a portmanteau term referring to a type of misogyny toward Black women).
Maya and Gene alleged that a dinner with Adjaye to address their concerns about late paychecks and visa insecurities in 2018 took a turn for the worse when they accompanied the architect back to his corporate apartment. According to their accounts, Adjaye propositioned them sexually in his bedroom and Gene refused to engage, but Maya, who said she drank that night, alleged that Adjaye told her, “You’ve just got to do this,” and described “feeling his penis against [her].” She called the incident “an assault.” In her second account, Maya alleges that Adjaye sexually assaulted her in a public restroom during a return trip from South Africa, claiming that she pushed him away and yelled “no” and that he “ejaculated in the sink, fixed himself up and walked out the door,” according to the Financial Times.
Dunia told the Financial Times that she had dinner with Adjaye after meeting him at an event in the UK in 2019 and was excited at the prospect of working with him. After their dinner, Dunia alleged that he forcibly kissed her at the Royal Academy of Arts, which they accessed after hours. Dunia continued to pursue work for his firm after this incident, and she alleged that there were several “emotionally abusive sexual encounters” with him, that she felt pressured to work without pay and meet his sexual demands due to his influence in the art world, and that he made inappropriate comments about her appearance and capabilities as a Black woman throughout the duration of her three-month contract with his firm.
In the statement released by Kendal Advisory, Adjaye said, “I am ashamed to say that I entered into relationships which though entirely consensual, blurred the boundaries between my professional and personal lives. I am deeply sorry. To restore trust and accountability, I will be immediately seeking professional help in order to learn from these mistakes to ensure that they never happen again.”
A spokesperson for Kendal Advisory specified to Hyperallergic that while Adjaye has withdrawn from some honorary positions, he has chosen not to step aside from his roles and responsibilities at Adjaye Associates. With regard to Dunia’s alleged references to her identity as a Black woman in relation to her appearance and consulting capabilities, Adjaye strongly rejected her characterization that he “belittled and mocked” her. However, he did concede that his “sexual interactions” with Dunia that continued after her professional services for the firm were “inappropriate.”
Editor’s note 7/6/23 11am EST: This article has been updated to include statements from the Counterpublic Triennial and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.