The community of Bexhill-on-Sea in the U.K. has rallied around the artist Tschabalala Self, with hundreds of volunteers turning up over the weekend to help restore her bronze sculpture at the De La Warr Pavilion, which had been vandalized with white paint.
The piece, titled , depicts a nearly 10-foot-tall Black woman in a yellow dress and matching boots and sunhat, turning in her chair to look out over the ocean. The vandalism took place on May 15, with the perpetrator covering the figure’s skin with white spray paint, and followed other destructive acts at the pavilion, including the smashing of glass panels on the stairway to the promenade, according to the BBC.
More than 300 people joined forces to begin scrubbing the artwork clean.
“Through this process of care and healing, we were able to make it clear that these acts will not be tolerated in our community and we will continue doing the necessary work to combat racism in all its forms,” the organization said in a statement, thanking those who came out for the occasion, which it described as “an act of peaceful resistance.”
“I am not surprised,” Self said in a statement following the initial incident, “especially because Black female bodies are often targets for abuse. 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 color and, in my mind, her strength.”
Self, who called the vandalism “an obscene act,” had conceived of the work—which debuted at London’s King’s Cross Station in 2022—as a larger-than-life representation of the simple act of sitting at rest, in a moment of peace and leisure. It is her first public artwork, commissioned by Avant Arte and produced in Madrid by Factum Arte. (A second, , was recently on view at the Desert X biennial in California’s Coachella Valley.)
“The woman is strong, beautiful and self-possessed,” Self said in her artist’s statement. “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.”
De La Warr is accepting donations for the sculpture’s professional conservation online, by text, by mail, and in-person at its gallery and box office. The museum plans to complete work by June 3, when it will hold a conversation between Self and Joseph Constable, its head of exhibitions, that will also includes a celebration of the restored sculpture.