Tate artist resigns over director's sexual harassment remarks

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 12.03.2018
Liv Wynter described the comments as "personally harmful"
The artist and activist Liv Wynter has resigned from her role on Tate’s learning team in “direct retaliation” to comments made by the gallery’s director Maria Balshaw last month on sexual harassment in the art world, which have been criticised as victim-blaming.

In a resignation letter published on her website last week, Wynter – who had been working with the learning team to run workshops for schoolchildren – said Balshaw’s words had come as a “huge slap in the face”.

She wrote: “As a survivor who makes work (I think quite explicitly) about what it means to have survived a violent relationship, I feel personally disrespected by Maria. I also feel like there is no dignity to be found as a survivor whilst working for her, nor is there any dignity in creating work about abuse and survival under the guise of someone who considers the abuse I suffered to be my fault.”

She was responding to an interview Balshaw gave the Times last month, in which the Tate director said of sexual harassment: “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 wrote on an Instagram thread: “I am sorry if this has been misunderstood. It is absolutely not my intention to say that women are in any way to blame. To be clear, it is the perpetrators who are responsible for their behaviour and not the women who are subjected to it.”

But Wynter said she felt forced to resign after attending a public meeting with Balshaw, saying the Tate director had failed to take responsibility and had blamed the Times for quoting her out of context. “I was saddened to watch a woman still completely unable to take ownership of anything but self-proclaimed ‘ignorance’,” said Wynter.

The artist also took issue with separate comments Balshaw had made at the launch of the Art Fund’s Why Collect? report, where she referenced black gallery visitors “eating their fried chicken lunch”.

Wynter criticised the Tate director’s subsequent response. “[Balshaw] was confident in saying she didn't understand how previous remarks she had made regarding black men and fried chicken could be seen as racist…  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 used her resignation letter to hit out at “invisible inequalities” at Tate, saying she felt the gallery was using its work with artists from marginalised communities as a “distraction technique” to disguise the lack of diversity among the institution’s staff as a whole.

A spokesman from Tate said that Balshaw had “apologised during an open discussion with staff” and had restated her commitment to inclusivity and diversity.

In a statement, Balshaw said: “Throughout my career I have been dedicated to addressing issues of gender, race and equality and I apologise if my recent comments have offended people. 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.”

Wynter's resignation comes after Tate suspended its relationship with one of its most significant donors, the art dealer Anthony d’Offay, after three women came forward with sexual harassment allegations about him in the wake of the #MeToo movement. D’Offay denies the claims. 


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15.03.2018, 15:57
Balshaw previously boasted the diverse credentials of the Whitworth (her job before the Tate) on Radio 4 where she says she was 'giving back to the people of Moss Side' despite people of Moss Side with the racial issues historically faced having little or no benefit from The Whitworth. This is in line with the ' “invisible inequalities” at Tate, saying she felt the gallery was using its work with artists from marginalised communities as a “distraction technique” to disguise the lack of diversity among the institution’s staff as a whole.' Balshaw is an astute player who knows the game and plays it well most of the time, but lets slip sometimes and its good that Liv is speaking out about this kind of endemic problem. I suggest Liv needs as much support as possible, it can't have been an easy thing to do to come out like that. It doesn't stack up to me that Liv would be making this up or exaggerating, her courage should be admired as she could have a lot to lose. BTW, the Moss Side incident is covered and can be listened to at http://virtualmigrants.net/arts/maria-balshaw-give-back-moss-side/ .
15.03.2018, 16:34
I don't think this artist would be making it up or exaggerating either - not in the slightest, why would she. She speaks honestly from where she is coming from.

Though I think it is perhaps a bit harsh to say that the Tate is somehow trying deliberately to 'distract' from their lack of diversity in their staff - I suspect it is just trying to start *somewhere*, like everyone else. Whatever you do in this area there is always ample room for criticism of not doing enough, or not in the right way, etc, but genuinely diversifying in a white- and male-dominated field is not a quick process. To make a start is important, as is to keep going, and to recognise efforts for what they are, even if they're not perfect. I think Liv Wynter was quite right to seek an apology from Balshaw - who perhaps will now question her assumptions and think about what she says more carefully in future. But they are, in their very different ways, both role models, both important to the future of Tate, and should work together if they can, not against each other.

15.03.2018, 10:22
I don't know Maria Balshaw either and have never met her, so don't know what sort of per son she is, but in terms of her comment on sexual harassment, I suppose it depends on what she was referring to. I'm no expert in this area, but I believe there have been studies done, relating to the value of assertiveness training for women, which have shown images of women striding along confidently, compared with those of women who look more shy or nervous, then convicted sex offenders have been asked who they might be more likely to attack, and they've always chosen the latter. This is not to say that any woman might not be just as vulnerable as any other, however they come over, nor that an attack is anyone's fault but that of the perpetrator, but it may be that Ms Balshaw had something like that in mind, one never knows.
12.03.2018, 13:36
It seems like a comment where Ms Balshaw was caught off guard and taken out of context. I don't know Mariah, but it doesn't stack up to me that she would be insensitive to gender or race issues.