Library of Congress posts Black Lives Matter closing artwork online: NPR

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Banners and signs hang from a fence in Lafayette Square near the White House, during ongoing protests against police brutality and racism in June 2020. The Library of Congress digitized some of the artwork, signs and photographs once posted on the fence.

JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP via Getty Images


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JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP via Getty Images


Banners and signs hang from a fence in Lafayette Square near the White House, during ongoing protests against police brutality and racism in June 2020. The Library of Congress digitized some of the artwork, signs and photographs once posted on the fence.

JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP via Getty Images

The fence that once stood between protesters and the White House in Lafayette Park during the summer of 2020 (also known as the Black Lives Matter Memorial), displayed hundreds of signs, posters and artwork left by protesters after the murder of George Floyd.

As authorities pulled down the fence in early 2021, activists have made it their mission to preserve every artifact, knowing that every sign represents a part of the nation’s history.

Today, with the help of activists and archivists, the artworks that once served as a memorial to the movement are on display in a new online exhibition on the Library of Congress website.

According to the Library, more than 30 works of art are now available online.

“[The Library] wants people to see these signs, the messages and contextualize them with other parts of our collection that talk about similar issues,” said Aliza LeventhalChief of Technical Services in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.

The collection was a team effort of activists and archivists

Leventhal, who led the Library’s fence art and sign collection efforts, worked alongside de facto fence curator Nadine Seiler and others to bring the digital collection to life. .

Leventhal says she visited the fence daily for eight months, becoming intrigued by what she saw each time.

“Every day new panels appeared, another person shared their story and added valuable layers to the ongoing fence conversation,” she said. noted.

As the artwork began to cover the fence until it was dismantled in early 2021, Leventhal began documenting the experience on her own – keeping track of the emotions and experiences the display provoked. .

“Panels ranged from homemade artwork brought from home or created on site, to pieces of paper with hastily written messages,” Leventhal said.

During the dismantling of the fence, volunteers removed more than 800 works of art, signs and banners, preserving each one in the hope that they would be archived.

Activists have spent months monitoring the fence and its artwork

Protesters came to Lafayette Park next to the White House following Floyd’s killing in May 2020, as federal authorities quickly erected metal barricades to block various plaza entrances around the park. The fence was erected on June 4, 2020 and fell on January 30, 2021.

Seiler and activist Karen Irwin of New York had spent long hours at the closing of what is now called Black Lives Matter Plaza as the two worked to preserve the hundreds of pieces created by protesters.

Nadine Seiler poses with an artwork that was once displayed on the Black Lives Matter fence near the White House. The Library of Congress has created an online exhibit of the artwork that was once displayed on the fence.

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Jonathan Franklin/NPR

“Rain, snow or freeze, we lived close to the fence,” Seiler said. “There was someone on that fence or a few meters from the fence, wherever the police pushed us.”

As Seiler and others guarded the fence, his artwork became a symbol of the movement, a place where people stopped and took photos – honoring what the fence and its panels stood for.

But the drive to save the artwork was inspired on October 26 when protesters saw counter-protesters tearing down signs from the fence.

“Because people were walking by and vandalizing this stuff, part of me felt disrespected,” Seiler says. “I made sure things weren’t going to be torn down.”

Some panels have been distributed across the country

When the volunteers removed the more than 800 panels, Seiler made it his mission to preserve as many of the panels as possible.

The panels are housed in a storage unit in Washington, DC, awaiting scanning by archivists in Baltimore. Enoch Pratt Free Librarya joint project with the DC Public Library.

A small collection of signs was displayed in Tulsa, Okla., last year as part of the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre and a number of them were also collected by Howard University.

Following the story published by NPR last October, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, and the George Floyd Database and Anti-Racist Street Art Archive also expressed interest in receiving artwork for display and archival purposes.

Once the more than 800 items have been scanned, Seiler says the process of donating the artwork will officially begin.

Ideally, she says, the organizers of the DC chapter of Black Lives Matter would like the coins to stay in the hands of black organizations. But, Seiler said wherever the coins might land, she hopes people will recognize their value and the messages behind them.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take, but whoever takes them has to agree to take care of them,” Seiler said.

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