Community members gather to help begin restoring Tschabalala Self’s "Seated" (2022) after it was vandalized. (photo by Kate Lineker, courtesy the De La Warr Pavilion)

Last Monday, May 15, in a South English coastal town, vandals defaced Tschabalala Self’s “Seated” (2022), a 10-foot public installation depicting a Black woman facing the sea. In what has been characterized as an act of racism, perpetrators covered the New York artist’s bronze sculpture with spray paint, violently coating the Black woman’s skin with white.

“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,” Self said in a statement.

The sculpture is currently located on the lawn outside the De La Warr Pavilion (DLWP), an arts center in Bexhill-on-Sea. The artwork is part of a temporary public art installation by the arts center with support from the Pilar Corrias Gallery in London.

With Self’s support, the arts center organized a community event on Sunday, May 21 to restore the sculpture. What followed was “an act of restoration and resistance” as over two hundred local members armed with paint solvent and scrubbing materials came together over the weekend to begin cleaning the sculpture, according to a press release from the pavilion.

Self’s artwork often includes depictions of the bodies of Black women and femme individuals, rendered in various mediums. In “Seated,” Self explores what she describes as “a universal act of leisure and calm.” Commissioned by the digital art collection platform Avant Arte, the sculpture first appeared in a mall near King’s Cross in London last year.

“I wanted to create a monumental sculpture for the public that spoke to this simple joy,” Self said in a text about the work. “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.”

Tschabalala Self, “Seated” (2022), patinated bronze (photo by Thierry Bal, courtesy the De La Warr Pavilion)

The sculpture was later unveiled in the seaside town, on the lawn outside the DLWP, on April 19.

Sussex Police did not respond to Hyperallergic‘s request for information regarding the investigation. In October 2022, the UK Home Office, responsible for policing in England and Wales, released a report that indicated a 26% rise in recorded hate crimes.

The community restoration event began at 11am and ran until 1pm. “We hope that the peaceful community clean-up event of last Sunday — and its far-reaching impact and support — will show the perpetrators that the majority of our community will not tolerate any future acts of this kind,” a DLWP spokesperson told Hyperallergic.

“Although certain measures were already in place, we have now improved the intensity and reach of our security measures, including refreshed signage next to the sculpture to deter further acts of vandalism, which is an ongoing problem on our seafront,” the spokesperson added.

“Seated” is set to re-open to the public on June 3. For the event, the arts center is celebrating with a community picnic in commemoration of “the power of art to galvanise and connect people and communities.” The sculpture will be on view until October 29.

“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 her statement about the recent vandalism. “‘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.”

Maya Pontone (she/her) is a Staff News Writer at Hyperallergic. Originally from Northern New Jersey, she currently resides in Brooklyn, where she covers daily news, both within and outside New York City....