LONDON — Central Saint Martins has officially apologized for controversial images from a Central Saint Martins course’s Instagram Stories on Thursday which sparked ire among members of the Chinese fashion industry.
“We offer an unreserved apology and will learn the lessons from this,” said Rachel Dickson, dean of academic programs at the college.
“Images of a student project on activism were posted to an Instagram account affiliated to our Foundation Programme. We accept that the imagery and language used in the artwork caused offense, as did the course’s initial response to concerns,” she said.
“Our teaching provides a framework for students to explore the boundaries of concepts, materials and techniques. We agree that it was not appropriate to publish images on our Instagram account without fully identifying the cultural sensitivities embedded in them and the debates surrounding the works’ production and exhibition.”
She said in the wider context, University of the Arts London, of which CSM is a part, “is actively engaged in understanding and tackling our own institutional biases and cultural prejudices. These include the groundbreaking UAL Decolonising the Arts Institute and a range of awareness initiatives for staff and students. This work is a priority as we strengthen the principles of equality and inclusion across the university.”
The controversy stemmed from banners that had been designed by foundation program students as part of a Damien Poulain project. The banners featured pro-Hong Kong protest slogans and called “Made in China” worthless. They were shared by the fashion and textiles course’s Instagram account and soon drew the attention of Chinese followers.
The posts were quickly taken down, and CSM apologized on Instagram Stories.
“All week our students have been working in groups of four or five on a project with Damien Poulien [sic]. They were tasked with writing a manifesto that addressed the issues ranging from global warming, consent, free choice, whaling, connectivity, fast fashion and a multitude of other social responsibilities,” said the course’s first statement posted on Instagram Stories.
“The students have created banners which visualize their manifesto. It’s come to our attention that two of the banners made have caused offense and for that, we’d like to apologize. The groups of people who made the works weren’t being derogatory, but we understand that without seeing the prep work and development, the banner itself can be taken out of context,” the statement continued.
“Again, we’re sorry if anyone was offended.”
Dissatisfied with the first apology on Instagram, more than 90 Chinese students and CSM alumni, including Angel Chen, Xuzhi Chen, Percy Lau and Gong Li of 8on8, wrote an open letter to Grayson Perry, chancellor of University of Arts London, calling one of the banners a “racist” attack on China and Chinese students.
The letter said: “The graphics in the projects, the flag of the Qing dynasty, queue (long braid) hairstyle and ‘Made in China £0 Worth’ slogan is insulting. When the school account reposted them, it added multiple praise emojis. It conveyed a clear message that the school approved of the value and message these artworks embody.”
The letter also described the school’s initial response as insincere, and demanded that CSM openly apologize again and admit cultural insensitivity from the faculty and social media management team.
Angel Chen, who is arguably one of the most successful CSM Chinese alumni in recent years, said on social media: “Central Saint Martins, please apologize!”
Industry leaders and influencers in China also voiced their anger and support on social media.