Nguyen curated an installation for Affordable Arts Fair Battersea, which was scheduled to launch next week, when a collector and museum curator specialising in Contemporary Vietnamese Fine Art emailed to say: “The coronavirus is causing much anxiety everywhere, and fairly or not, Asians are being seen as carriers of the virus.”
The email continued: "Your presence on the stand would unfortunately create hesitation on the part of the audience to enter the exhibition space.”
Nguyen, who curated the Figurations installation alongside Ella Winning, was told: “I am very sorry to have to cancel your assistance at the fair next week."
The email concluded: “I apologise for this and hope we can meet and perhaps work together in the future.”
Nguyen posted a screenshot of the email to Instagram, which sparked a flurry of replies conveying shock and disgrace. Nguyen, though, urged against a witch hunt, writing: “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.”
Affordable Arts fair organisers told The Independent that they had no idea the email had been sent and found its content unacceptable.
"We are aware of a tweet showing a screengrab of an email from an exhibiting gallery requesting an artist not to attend our Fair next week.
"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 have tried to contact the gallery who sent the message to request a full retraction and apology.
"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.
"Over the past twenty years we have championed the diverse creative community that make up the art world through our global calendar of Fairs. We look forward to welcoming international galleries, artists and visitors to our future Fairs.”
After news of the email surfaced, the gallery received huge backlash on social media for “completely audacious racism”.
“Because, of course, it’s fine to profit off Vietnamese artists while submitting to hardcore racist hysteria,” one instagram user wrote. “Usually this kind of person keeps their agenda thinly veiled, but here it is bright as day.”
Another wrote: “You don’t address misunderstanding and prejudice by pandering to it. If An Nguyen still wants to come to your exhibition – which is probably questionable – you should apologetically and penitently allow that to happen.”
Azran apologised “for any offence” caused by the email, stating: “[It was] insensitive and in hindsight reflected poor judgement for me to cancel An Nguyen joining my stand as an assistant."
“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 Independent has contacted Nguyen for comment.
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