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Black Lives Matter | They preserve the ephemeral art born of movement



(Washington) “Black Lives Matter” (black lives matter), “Resist”, claim the vestiges of the major anti-racist demonstrations of 2020 that the American Nadine Seiler has carefully preserved and now piles up in her car to have them digitized.

Posters, billboards, banners: on this cold February day, the black activist in the pink cap brings more than 300 pieces to the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. A tedious operation that she performs every six weeks.

These artifacts have been affixed for months to a metal grate erected in front of the White House by the Trump administration in June 2020, as an unprecedented anti-racism protest movement rocks the country, sparked by the death of the African-American George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer.

The more than two meter high fence quickly becomes a place of memory and rallying point for the Black Lives Matter movement in the American capital as well as an open-air art gallery, and Nadine Seiler, its accidental curator.

Watch night and day

“I saw objects falling to the ground or being removed by people, so I decided with other people to organize this space and put things back on the grid,” the 50-year-old told AFP.

For nearly a year, Nadine Seiler voluntarily patched up the signs with tape, attached the photos of victims of police violence blown by the wind and traced in marker the anti-Trump slogans erased by the rain.

She must also fight against supporters of the Republican president and members of conservative movements who regularly come to tear this militant art to pieces.

“On October 26, 2020, opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement who had come for the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett (appointed by Donald Trump to the Supreme Court, editor’s note) went to the gate and destroyed almost everything, except maybe ten objects,” recalls Mme Seiler.

Nadine Seiler and a handful of volunteers then decided to watch night and day over the works, camping for three months on the site, renamed “Black Lives Matter Plaza” by the Democratic town hall.


Nadine Seiler

“People felt the need to come to Washington and share their story on this grid and I felt compelled to protect their voices,” says the one who wears a necklace with the logo of the super heroine Wonder Woman.

Unemployed, devoting all her time to this mission, Nadine Seiler, who lives in Waldorf, Maryland, has difficulty repaying her mortgage during this period and almost loses her house.

“If we hadn’t been there, everything would have collapsed because it wasn’t meant to be a permanent structure,” said Karen Irwin, 46, a New York activist who has been involved in the ongoing protection of the grid. .

Burn History

Across the United States, other initiatives aimed at preserving the ephemeral art of this historic social movement have sprung up.

In Minneapolis, George Floyd’s cousin, Paris Stevens, thus co-founded the “George Floyd Global Memorial” in October 2020, to safeguard the various “offerings” and works deposited at the crossroads where he died.

“We have more than 3000 artistic pieces: panels, letters, several murals”, lists with AFP Mme Stevens, who plans to create a museum.

“It’s really important to be able to tell our story the way we want to tell it,” she says.

Advised by an archivist, Nadine Seiler for her part photographed and methodically collected more than a thousand pieces in January 2021 after the inauguration of Joe Biden and a few months before the dismantling of the grid.

At least 600 items have already been digitized using a laser scanner by the Enoch Pratt Library, which is collaborating on this project with the Washington Public Library.

“These types of objects are often used for an afternoon or during a demonstration and then thrown away,” notes Jodi Hoover, who manages digital resources at Enoch Pratt.


Jodi Hoover

“To be able to capture the feelings, what people were thinking, at this particular moment during this huge movement for social justice, it’s extraordinary,” she adds. “We have the impression of etching history”.

Once the digitization is complete, probably this fall, Nadine Seiler and Karen Irwin plan to donate their collection in batches to interested associations, museums or businesses.

“We want this to be shown”, insists Mme Seiler, who has already presented certain plays in Tulsa, a city devastated by a racial massacre in 1921. “It is important to prove to people that history will remember your voice”, concludes Karen Irwin.

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