Artists, curators, writers and other visual arts professionals have signed an uncompromising open letter denouncing sexual harassment in art world.
Published online at www.not-surprised.org and distributed using the hashtag #NOTSURPRISED, the letter begins: “We are not surprised. We are gallerists, artists, writers, editors, curators, directors, arts administrators, assistants, and interns – workers of the art world – and we have been groped, undermined, harassed, infantilised, 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.”
Signed by artists including 2016 Turner Prize winner Helen Marten, Tania Bruguera, Coco Fusco, Joan Jonas, Cindy Sherman and Rosemarie Trockel, other signatories include gallerist Sadie Coles, Baltic director Sarah Munro, and Sarah McCrory, formerly director of Glasgow International and now director of the new Centre for Contemporary Art at Goldsmiths.
The letter comes in the wake of allegations against Artforum co-publisher Knight Landesman and stems from a group discussion about sexual harassment in the art world that was prompted by the news.
The letter states: “We are not surprised when curators offer exhibitions or support in exchange for sexual favours. We are not surprised when gallerists romanticise, minimise, and hide sexually abusive behaviour by artists they represent. We are not surprised when a meeting with a collector or a potential patron becomes a sexual proposition. We are not surprised when we are retaliated against for not complying. Abuse of power comes as no surprise.
“There is an urgent need to share our accounts of widespread sexism, unequal and inappropriate treatment, harassment and sexual misconduct, which we experience regularly, broadly, and acutely.”
The letter adds that, while many “institutions and individuals with power in the art world” express support for feminism and equality, in practice they are guilty of preserving “oppressive and harmful sexist norms”.
Describing “an art world that upholds inherited power structures at the cost of ethical behaviour”, the letter continues: “We have been silenced, ostracised, pathologised, dismissed as “overreacting”, and threatened when we have tried to expose sexually and emotionally abusive behaviour. We will be silenced no longer.”
Resolving to speak out and denounce those “who would continue to exploit, silence, and dismiss us”, the letter ends by calling on “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.”
Speaking to The Guardian, McCrory explained how the letter came about: “It’s been a very intense three days but it’s been also a heartening exercise. It began from discussions on social media between colleagues initially about how to react to the Artforum situation. We were concerned about how it was being dealt with and about accountability.”
The letter, which has so far been translated into French, Albanian, Spanish, and Portugese with more languages due soon, is described by its creators as “the first public step. We will continue to address and act upon these issues as part of a larger process, building the next steps through the feedback we receive.”
Read the full letter here
UPDATE: As of 12am Pacific Standard Time on 30 October 2017, over 5,000 people have signed the open letter, causing the letter’s organisers to close the list to further signatures due to the overwhelming demand. A short statement on www.not-surprised.org states:
“Due to overwhelming response, and because this is an exclusively volunteer-driven undertaking, we have closed this list to further signatures as of 12:00 AM PST 30 October, 2017. We are strategizing all the next steps and action items that have been generated by this open discussion. We are awed by your response and encourage you to keep this conversation going. We invite you to monitor this site and our Instagram (@notsurprised), Facebook(@notsurprised2017) and Twitter (@not_surprised1) for forthcoming resources, news, and action points.