Artistswork

New York City Picks Artist to Replace Monument That Honored Doctor Who Experimented on Slaves, After Another Proposal Is Withdrawn

Rendering for 'Victory'

A rendering of Victory Beyond Sims.

COURTESY VINNIE BAGWELL AND BRYCE TURNER

A monument that for years was the focus of protests before being removed from its position on the edge of Central Park in the East Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan last year will soon be replaced.

New York City Department of Cultural Affairs has selected Vinnie Bagwell to create the new work, which will stand in place of one of J. Marion Sims, a 19th-century gynecologist who performed medical experimentation on enslaved black women without anesthesia. Bagwell’s proposal is a large-scale bronze winged figure titled Victory Beyond Sims.

The decision has not been without contention. Announcing the news, the Department of Cultural Affairs said that artist Simone Leigh, whom a panel of seven judges had picked to do the project, had withdrawn her proposal. Though Leigh’s proposal had been selected in a vote of 4 to 3, the DCA said that Leigh had removed her work from consideration “in recognition of the community’s preference for Bagwell’s proposal.”

The vote in favor of Leigh’s work was held on Saturday. Following the decision, some local activists voiced their disagreement with the choice, as the Observer and Hyperallergic have reported. In a series of Twitter posts, writer and critic Antwaun Sargent, who was part of the panel that voted on proposals from Bagwell, Leigh, Kehinde Wiley, and Wangechi Mutu, also said that some local stakeholders and members of the city’s Beyond Sims Committee had favored Bagwell’s plan.

“I greatly appreciate that my proposal was selected by the committee,” Leigh said in a statement. “However, I am aware that there is significant community sentiment for another proposal. Since this is a public monument in their neighborhood, I defer to them and have withdrawn my work.”

Reached by ARTnews, Bagwell said, “The most important thing is that it’s public art, and it’s really important to engage the community and to keep them very much involved in the process.” She added, “In this instance, I am delighted because the community showed tremendous favor for my work, and that’s my goal.”

Bagwell said that she strives in her work “to balance the narrative for marginalized people,” noting that “African-Americans have been tremendously marginalized in public art.”

Bagwell will work toward a final design in collaboration with local residents. Her monument is expected to be installed in 2021.

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