Art world rallies against sexual harassment with open letter signed by 5,000

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Amy Swales
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More than 5,000 people working in the arts have signed an open letter condemning the sexual harassment they “experience regularly, broadly and acutely” – pledging to take action and continue speaking out.

In a move revealing just how widespread and cross-industry the issue of sexual harassment, assault and abuse is, the letter has been authored by “artists, arts administrators, assistants, curators, directors, editors, educators, gallerists, interns, scholars, students, writers and more – workers of the art world”.

And having been originally penned by 150 people with 1,800 signatures, the amount of signees has now ballooned to 5,000.

On the Not Surprised website, which opens with an image by artist Jenny Holzer, containing the phrase ‘Abuse of power comes as no surprise’, the letter states that the signees “will be silenced no longer” and details the type of harassment many in the arts have faced.

The statement begins, “We have been groped, undermined, harassed, infantilized, scorned, threatened and intimidated by those in positions of power who control access to resources and opportunities.

“We have held our tongues, threatened by power wielded over us and promises of institutional access and career advancement.”

The list of signatories, which span all genders, including cisgender, trans and gender non-conforming people, includes names such as Holzer, Cindy Sherman, Lynn Nottage, Phyllida Barlow, Barbara Kruger, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Marilyn Minter and Tania Bruguera.

The letter goes on to allege that curators, gallerists, patrons and collectors have perpetuated a culture of harassment and abuse, offering support and career advancement in exchange for “sexual favours” and covering up unacceptable behaviour by artists.

It was initially prompted by the resignation of Knight Landesman as publisher of Artforum magazine following accusations of sexual harassment by nine women. 

There has been such a huge response to the #notsurprised campaign that the letter has been temporarily closed to new signatures while the volunteer-run movement organises the “next steps and action items” the conversation has prompted. 

The movement comes as the scandal around Harvey Weinstein continues, with hundreds of women alleging sexual misconduct from those in power across the TV and film industry. The conversation has spread across industries, with thousands of people sharing their own stories of sexual harassment, and names such as fashion photographer Terry Richardson, film-maker Woody Allen, actor Kevin Spacey and journalist Mark Halperin facing allegations, among several others.

With hashtags such as #metoo and viral tweets highlighting the often problematic apology statements from accused men, the digital sphere has played a huge part in opening up the conversation so far, both for survivors to tell their stories and for victim-blaming views to be challenged.

“We will denounce those who would continue to exploit, silence, and dismiss us,” the open letter continues. “Your actions will no longer be a secret, whispered amongst us for fear of ostracization, professional shunning, and recrimination.

“Where we see the abuse of power, we resolve to speak out, to demand that institutions and individuals address our concerns seriously, and to bring these incidents to light regardless of the perpetrator’s gender.

“We will no longer ignore the condescending remarks, the wayward hands on our bodies, the threats and intimidations thinly veiled as flirtation, or the silence from ambitious colleagues. We will not tolerate being shamed or disbelieved, and we will not tolerate the recrimination that comes with speaking out.”

It adds: “We […] call upon art institutions, boards, and peers to consider their role in the perpetuation of different levels of sexual inequity and abuse, and how they plan to handle these issues in the future.

“We are too many, now, to be silenced or ignored.”

Read the letter in full here.

Image: iStock


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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.