What Happened - the cancellation itself
I had been booked to give a talk at CAL, the annual flagship event of the CPA - of which I am a member. It takes place at CSM, part of the University of the Arts, London, (UAL.)
The original booking, in 2020, had included a plan to display my pots which formed part of a project with women@thewell, a women only service based in Kings Cross, that supports both women in prostitution and those at risk. It also helps them to find ways out. This last part is particularly controversial among students and academics, including senior academics who often call themselves 'sex positive,' or 'sex workers rights activists.' They are neither of these things. They are authoritarian misogynists which is a completely different thing.
In February 2022, after a two year Covid gap, CAL was in its final stages of preparation. I got a phone call from Toby Brundin, Director of the CPA, to say that the CPA council had decided to cancel the booking: 'In the time since the talk was originally scheduled in 2020, we have been made aware that its inclusion in the programme may cause the event to be disrupted, leading to possible delay or even closure. ' This was the reason given over the phone and later that day by email.
What we Know and Don't Know
To date, I still have no indication of who or what was threatening to cause disruption on such a scale that it could delay or close a major three day event. The potter and blogger, Marshall Colman, had a conversation with Brundin some days after my talk was cancelled and was told it was because of my Gender Critical beliefs. He reported this in his blog here.
I have also seen a copy of a letter stating that just my presence in the building would be enough to incite a heated protest.
A petition calling for the restoration of my talk and a letter to the CPA signed by 74 members and associates made no difference. The support from other artists and potters has been hugely encouraging as have the many messages of sympathy but the CPA and CSM have not shifted their position.
I have begun legal action. The claim is against the CPA for discrimination against my Gender Critical beliefs. There is a further claim against CSM/UAL but much depends on whether or not we get the information required to proceed. Levins Solicitors are acting for me. Subject Access Requests, (SARs) have been sent but to no avail so far. CSM did respond but their response was so heavily redacted that it reveals little. To date, the CPA's response was to treat the SAR with contempt. We now move forward to 'orders for disclosure.' These are the basics.
I meanwhile must find a way to continue being an artist knowing that exhibiting in public spaces is almost impossible. Although, at this stage, I can only guess at the details of what happened to cause my cancellation from CAL, we can surmise the following. Once it was known that I would be one of the speakers, someone, or a group of people, approached the organiser - probably Duncan Hoosan who organised the lecture series - who then raised it with the CPA director, Toby Brundin. The CPA Council then voted to cancel my talk. We know CSM were involved at some point. It wasn't only the CPA.
The press coverage was positive and helpful, from my point of view. You can read Ewan Somerville's piece for the Telegraph here, The Daily Mail's here, along with this piece in Unherd by Julie Bindel and this by Jo Bartosch in Spiked. Jo Bartosch also wrote an excellent piece, The Silencing of Feminist Artists in Spiked in 2019.
This kind of process can be repeated anywhere now - in any public space or private gallery showing my work or that of any other feminist artist. Activists have even succeeded in getting feminist artists removed from commercial selling sites such as Shopify, Etsy and even Stripe - one of the most common payment systems. As my earlier post on this subject shows, this is not the first time it has happened to me. I have become a target now - probably since 2019 although my cancelling history goes back to 2010. Even someone at Cardiff School of Art raised questions about my coming as a guest to the 2022 degree show - enough to require a meeting and an over-ruling by the Dean. My recent talk at Tate Modern has also had repercussions.
Moving on and a Call for Action
This is not an easy environment to work in. Also, I need, above all to find what really did happen. The artworld as a whole cannot move forward from this impasse without proper conversations, still less a small discipline like ceramics. The fear, anxiety, the look-the-other-way silence and, above all, the studied ignorance has to end. This is where ostracisation starts - with silence, then exclusion. The Forstater Judgement sets out, clearly and unequivocally, that both Gender Critical beliefs and Gender Ideology are 'worthy of respect in a democratic society.' BOTH of them. Not just one. Art worldists need to get a grip on this.
Art galleries and museums must learn to live within the law and democratic norms. The current situation, in which the artworld resembles a de facto state within a state, with its own laws and customs, is intolerable and cannot continue. Curators, gallerists and Museum staff must learn to work with differences of opinion and learn to deal with conflicting opinions, including those that some may find uncomfortable or offensive.