A Vietnamese artist was told not to attend London's Affordable Art Fair over concerns that their presence would “create hesitation” among the audience in relation to the coronavirus.
In a screenshot of an email circulating social media, Raquelle Azran, director of the Vietnamese Contemporary Fine Art gallery, wrote to An Nguyen to say their "assistance" was no longer needed at the upcoming fair.
Azran wrote: “I am very sorry to cancel your assistance at the fair next week. The coronavirus is causing much anxiety everywhere, and fairly or not, Asians are being seen as carriers of the virus. Your presence on the stand would unfortunately create hesitation on the part of the audience to enter the exhibition space.”
Nguyen, a University of Brighton graduate and digital creator, declined an interview request from BuzzFeed News but shared the email screenshots on Instagram which were shared on Twitter by another user.
Azran’s comments come amid a rise in racist incidents and discrimination directed at East Asians over the coronavirus, an illness that was first identified in Wuhan City, China.
Last week, a 23-year-old Asian student said he was attacked by a group of men in London as one yelled at him: "I don’t want your coronavirus in my country."
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the New York–based gallery director expressed regret over her email and described her response as “insensitive”.
She said: “I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused by my actions. They were insensitive and in hindsight reflected poor judgement for me to cancel An Nguyen joining my stand as an assistant.
“I will no longer be exhibiting at the Affordable Art Fair next week. I shall continue, as I have over the past two decades, to encourage and exhibit Vietnamese artists and help them achieve the recognition they deserve.”
Organisers of the Affordable Art Fair also confirmed that Azran would no longer be participating and said that the decision was mutual after it contacted the art director to request a “full retraction and apology".
A spokesperson for the AAF said: “The message was not sent by the Affordable Art Fair and was a communication sent by a gallery to one of their artists. We were not aware of this email communication or its contents and we do not condone the views or implications within the message.
“We wish to reassure that these views are not held by the Affordable Art Fair and we have not instructed any exhibiting gallery to take such action.”
The fair, which launched in London in October 1999, regularly hosts thousands of art lovers offering them the opportunity to buy paintings, sculptures, photographs, and prints from various galleries all under one roof.
In preparation for this year’s event, taking place between March 12–15 in Battersea, organisers have announced a host of measures to limit the spread of the virus including making antibacterial hand wash available and bringing in additional on-site cleaning services throughout the day.
Attendees have been advised to take precautionary measures including “limiting the shaking of hands", and anyone displaying symptoms has been asked to avoid attending.