A Vietnamese curator has been dropped by an exhibitor at a UK art fair because she would be “seen as carrying the virus”, it emerged on Thursday, as England’s chief medical officer warned against the vilification of those feared to have the infection.
An Nguyen posted a screenshot on social media of an email she received from Raquelle Azran, a dealer and curator specialising in contemporary Vietnamese fine art, cancelling her role as an assistant for the exhibit at the Affordable Art Fair (AFF) “because your presence on the stand would unfortunately create hesitation”.
The organisers of the event, which is due to take place next week in Battersea, south-west London, stressed that the email was not sent by them and they did not condone its contents. The AFF confirmed it had spoken to Azran and that she would no longer be exhibiting.
“I am very sorry to have to cancel your assistance at the fair next week,” Azran wrote to Nguyen. “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. I apologise for this and hope we can meet and perhaps work together in future.”
Nguyen urged against a witch-hunt against Azran, without naming her. “I have shared my email without the sender to address non-violent racism,” she wrote on Instagram. “If you are seeing that the issue is solely with the person in question alone it is not.
“It is the systematic structure of knowledge production that informs some of us that normalising non-aggressive discrimination is acceptable which needs to change.”
The AAF, which seeks to make contemporary art more accessible and diverse, said that it had attempted to contact Azran to discuss her gallery’s participation at the fair and to request a full retraction and apology.
“We have now spoken to the gallery and they will no longer be exhibiting at the fair next week,” a spokesperson said, adding that the decision was agreed mutually.
“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.”
Azran apologised unreservedly “for any offence” caused by the email and confirmed she would not be exhibiting at the event.
“[It was] insensitive and in hindsight reflected poor judgement for me to cancel An Nguyen joining my stand as an assistant,” she said.
“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.”
The news came amid concerns about prejudice related to the coronavirus, with the chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, saying on Thursday morning that some people in the UK had been vilified because of fears about the virus.
Reports in the UK, and elsewhere in the world, of racism towards people of Asian descent have increased as the coronavirus outbreak has intensified.
Among a number of incidents, a Singaporean student was violently attacked in London by a group of three men after they told him: “We don’t want your coronavirus in our country”.
A South Korean interpreter in the Netherlands was allegedly punched at by a man shouting “Chinese”. Dozens of others have contacted the Guardian reporting how they have received insults, glares and other microaggressions.
Nguyen was contacted for comment.