Monumental Sculpture of Black Woman by Tschabalala Self Is Painted White by Vandals in England

A 10-foot-tall sculpture of a seated Black woman by Tschabalala Self was spray-painted white by vandals in England last week, in an incident that the US-based artist said was emblematic of the misogyny and racism that are pervasive in Europe and elsewhere.

The work, titled Seated (2022), first appeared near King’s Cross in London last year and is now being exhibited by the De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, a town on the coast of East Sussex.

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After its vandalism on May 15, the community in Bexhill-on-Sea banded together to clean the work and return it to its original state. According to the BBC, more than 200 people were involved in the effort.

The De la Warr Pavilion publicly announced the vandalism this past weekend, saying that it intended to keep the work on view through the planned end of its run toward the end of October.

“Despite my disappointment I am not surprised as Black and Female—and especially because Black Female bodies are often targets for abuse,” Self said in a statement. “Seated proudly represents the beauty of both blackness and femininity, and for these very reasons she has been harmed: covered by her assailant with white spray paint in a futile attempt to erase her colour and, in my mind, her strength.”

She continued, “Many have derived joy from Seated, and through community support she will be restored to her former likeness. I hope that the violence enacted on the sculpture illuminates the persistent issues plaguing the Global West. Painting the skin of my sculpture white is an obscene act and I feel horribly for individuals in Bexhill-on-Sea for whom this event may have shocked or frightened.”

In her sculptures and paintings, Self has frequently depicted Black women, exploring how representations of them can empower them. “Self experiments with how blackness, and otherness, is constructed—her construction of these figures becoming a powerful metaphor—and how it is projected in both popular culture and high art,” Andrew Russeth wrote in a 2019 profile of Self for ARTnews.

In 2022, Self had positioned Seated, her first public artwork, in a similar way, saying, “Taking a seat is a universal act of leisure and calm. I wanted to create a monumental sculpture for the public that spoke to this simple joy. The woman is strong, beautiful and self-possessed. She represents all individuals, but women in particular, who understand the power and importance of simple gestures that assert their right to take up space.”

Seated is set to go back on view to the public in Bexhill-on-Sea starting on June 3 following a restoration. When it returns, the De la Warr Pavilion is inviting people to picnic around it.

Another sculpture by Self can be currently seen in California’s Coachella Valley, where, as part of the Desert X biennial, she is exhibiting Pioneer (2023), which is meant to represent “the lost, expelled and forgotten Indigenous, Native and African women whose bodies and labor allowed for American expansion and growth,” per its description.


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