Art fair drops New York dealer for inciting coronavirus prejudice

A New York art dealer has provoked fierce condemnation after she banned a Vietnamese curator from her booth because of “coronavirus prejudice.”

Raquelle Azran, a dealer and curator specialising in contemporary Vietnamese fine art, disinvited An Nguyen from the Affordable Art Fair’s (AFF) London edition. Nguyen, who lives in Canada, had curated an installation for the upcoming event that is scheduled to begin next week.

In an email sent to the curator, Azran wrote: “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.”

Social media erupted with criticism of the dealer, after Nguyen posted the email on Instagram. “I have shared my email without the sender to address non-violent racism,” she explained. “It is the systematic structure of knowledge production that informs some of us that normalising non-aggressive discrimination is acceptable which needs to change.”

AFF strongly denied any association with Azran’s email. The international fair has since dropped the New York-based dealer from the event.

We were not aware of this email communication or its contents and we do not condone the views or implications within the message,” AFF announced in a statement. “Over the past twenty years we have championed the diverse creative community that make up the art world through our global calendar of Fairs.”

Azran swiftly made a public apology for the widespread offense caused by her email. She stated “[it was] insensitive and in hindsight reflected poor judgement for me to cancel An Nguyen joining my stand as an assistant.” 

Reports of violent and non-violent racism towards people of east Asian appearance have escalated worldwide following the outbreak of coronavirus at the beginning of this year. On Thursday morning the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, remarked that some people in the UK have been unjustly vilified due to fears about the virus.

Several art fairs were also cancelled amid growing concerns of infection, including Art Basel Hong Kong and the London Book Fair, whilst Art Dubai postponed the commercial portion of their event.

An Nguyen will no longer attend AFF next week in Battersea, south-west London.

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