It’s hard to find out what’s going on in the case of Claudia Claire, whose invitation to talk at Ceramic Art London has been withdrawn, apparently because of her views.
The event is organised by the Craft Potters Association at Central Saint Martins School of Art, but it appears that neither organisation has taken responsibility for the ban. Where did it come from? The Daily Telegraph has investigated and a report is expected tomorrow.
With the caveat that Central Saint Martins (above) haven’t spoken publicly about their reason for refusing to allow Claudia Clare to speak at the university, which I’ve written about earlier, their reason, as I understand it, looks rather thin on examination.
Apparently their reason for the ban is that, because of her gender-critical views, Claudia’s speaking would breach their equal opportunities guidelines. (Gender-critical, for those unfamiliar with this world, means the assertion that sex – being a man or a woman – is based on biology and isn’t altered by one’s gender identity.) I’ve said that, since Claudia wasn’t billed to talk about her gender-critical views, but about her work of art, And the Door Opened, this means she’s being banned not for what she’s saying but for what she thinks.
If that is the case, Central Saint Martins may be skating on thin ice. Claudia and her supporters have drawn my attention to the Forstater case, in which the courts decided that a person couldn’t be sacked for gender-critical views and overturned the ruling of an Employment Tribunal that they could. The court ruled that if those views were cogent and sincerely held they were a philosophical belief akin to a religion and were a “protected characteristic” under equality law. In other words, dismissing someone from their job because of their gender-critical beliefs, would be contrary to equal-opportunities law.
Allowing or not allowing someone to talk on one’s premises is another matter, and as I’m not a lawyer I can’t say whether or not Central Saint Martins is breaking the law by banning Claudia because of the views she holds. But the government has become concerned about the increasing tendency of students in higher education to bully speakers they don’t like and the tendency of university authorities to give in to them and to ban those speakers, as it seems has happened to Claudia, and a Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill is going through Parliament to extend the Forstater principle and to stop it from happening in the future.
Since writing about Claudia Clare’s exclusion from the forthcoming Ceramic Art London (CAL) exhibition at Central St Martins School of Art, I’ve learned more about the surrounding events. In 2020 Claudia proposed to talk at CAL about her project And the Door Opened, which is about women escaping the sex trade. At the time no-one objected, and when CAL was revived after a two-year break she was included in the programme. But this year Central Saint Martins said that they couldn’t permit her to talk because she breached their equal opportunities guidelines.
Claudia thinks that a person can’t change their sex by identifying as a person of a particular gender and that women’s rights are endangered by gender self-identification. Central Saint Martins appear to think (or to defer to the view) that holding that opinion is in itself a breach their equal opportunities policy and that a person who holds it can’t be allowed to talk on their premises. Claudia wasn’t actually billed to talk about gender but about women and prostitution, so it does look very much as if she’s been banned not because of what she was going to say but because of what she thinks. That’s about as close to Orwellian thoughtcrime as it’s possible to get.
Central Saint Martins thus put the event organisers, the Craft Potters Association, in a very difficult position: should they have pushed back and jeopardised the whole event or should they have agreed to curtail Claudia’s civil liberties?
An unusual row has broken out at the Craft Potters Association (CPA), the body that represents Britain’s best ceramic artists and which is part of the British craft establishment. They recently decided to cancel their invitation to Claudia Clare (above) to display her ceramics and give a talk at Ceramic Art London (CAL), the big ceramic exhibition that they put on each year.
I know Claudia well, having first met her as a fellow-student on the Harrow ceramics course, and I’ve always respected her integrity, her ability as an artist and her independence of thought. The CPA also respect her, having selected her as a member, an honour given to few potters. My understanding of the circumstances surrounding Claudia’s cancellation is this. She was invited in 2020 to give a talk at CAL and to display her ceramics about women forced into prostitution and their way out of it, an installation supported by the Arts Council. The invitation was postponed because of COVID and was scheduled for this year.
Recently a threat was made to her display at CAL, not to Claudia but to the Craft Potters Association. The Association haven’t communicated the details to her, but they told her that they have now decided to cancel the invitation. Claudia’s enquiries indicate that the threats were made by people who disagree with her views about sex workers.
Claudia never shrinks from controversy but in this case her point of view is hardly controversial. Some people obviously disagree with it, in which case they’re free to argue their case; but if the Craft Potters Association have received threats of violence I would think that the right course of action is to report them to the police and to provide adequate security at the event, not to tell the exhibitor that she can’t appear. I’ve written to Peter Snowden, the Chairperson of the CPA, to tell him that. There’s a petition here if anyone wants to support Claudia and artistic freedom of expression.
I said that there were only a few traditional studio potters in Ceramic Art London last week and that there was more innovation than ever. Not surprisingly, some potters are unhappy about it. Eddie Curtis (above), a potter for forty years, and by no means conservative in his work, just missed selection and has written a long post on Facebook expressing his annoyance. He is leaving the Craft Potters Association (CPA) in protest.
Phil Rogers, a potter in the Leach tradition, who was for many years a leading figure in the CPA also writes about his disillusionment and explains why he left several years ago, feeling marginalized.