On Saturday, October 5th at the Museum for the City of New York, an event was held by Percent for Art, under the auspices of the Dept. of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) to select a final artist who will design an artwork that will replace the J. Marion Sims statue. There were four artists who presented their proposal for consideration; Kehinde Wile, Simone Leigh, Wangechi Mutu, and Vinnie Bagwell. The community expressed overwhelming support for Vinnie Bagwell’s artwork (depicted above), who was the only artist who attended the event, however the panelists voted (4/3) in favor of Simone Leigh. Screams and cries of frustration were expressed from community members who felt that they were betrayed yet again.
The former Sims statue was removed from 103rd Street and 5th Avenue, due to the controversy and public outcry over his checkered past, which included, performing numerous gynecological surgeries on enslaved African American women, particularly, Betsy, Anarcha and Lucy, who could not give their consent.
Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of DCLA was tasked with selecting a panel of 7, who were to vote and decide on the final artist. The community was told their voice, vision and presence at the event would help guide the selection and influence the panel. Based on outcry, on Monday, Commissioner Finkelpearl announced Vinnie Bagwell as the winner and stated that Simone Leigh withdrew her name.
We are excited to learn that her artwork was selected and look forward to seeing her statue, “Victory” placed in our community, and wholeheartedly support Vinnie as her vision was most aligned with the sentiments gathered through community feedback. We vow to stand with Vinnie until the artwork is completed to ensure that the she receives the necessary resources needed to see the project through completion.
“I am extremely pleased that the East Harlem community’s decision has been honored and respected. To ensure that their vision for the site of the Sims statue is fully and expeditiously carried out, it is critical that the community stay fully involved throughout the process. This includes holding DCLA, Parks, other City agencies, and the Mayor’s office accountable every step of the way. Removing the Sims statue – and replacing it with a work of art that speaks to the strength and resilience of African American women throughout this country’s history – is long overdue”. – Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Chair of the Committee on Women & Gender Equity
“After learning about the issues that were raised at the final artist selection process, held this past Saturday by the Percent for Art and the Department of Cultural Affairs, I’m glad to hear that members of the community feel that their voices were heard. The East Harlem community has been engaged in a long journey to have the statue of J. Marion Sims removed and deserve to have a statue that represents them. I agree with the sentiments of the community, that Vinnie Bagwell’s statue, “Victory”, will be seen as a symbol of resilience and move us towards a path of healing. I implore upon Percent for Art and the Department of Cultural Affairs to take the necessary steps to ensure the community’s continued involvement to bring this project to completion”. – Council Member Inez D. Barron, Chair of the Committee on Higher Education
“As a lifelong resident of East Harlem, it will be wonderful to see the Victory monument that had overwhelming support from the community installed to replace the empty space at 103rd Street. Thank you DCLA, for listening to the voices of our community expressing support for “Victory” and reversing course. As this project moves forward, I look forward to working with DCLA, other stakeholders and the community to ensure that the vision outlined by Vinnie Bagwell in her “Victory” presentation be brought to fruition”. – Nilsa Orama, Chair Community Board 11
We are calling on DCLA and Percent for Art to honor the role of the community as this process continues. We also call on the City Council to conduct an oversight hearing to examine the Percent for Art and DCLA process, especially as other statues, artwork and monuments are being considered throughout the city.