Saving Black Lives: Nadine Seiler is preserving art from BLM plaza

Sam P.K. Collins

Activist-turned-Curator Sets Out to Preserve Pieces of Black Lives Matter Plaza

In the months preceding and following the 2020 presidential election, Nadine Seiler is counted among the few who often confronted Trump supporters hellbent on vandalizing and tearing down memorials to Black victims of police violence along the fence blocking Lafayette Park in Downtown D.C.

Given what she described as the futility of such a mission, Seiler said she recently, and unilaterally, channeled her energy into telling her story and preserving dozens of panels of Black Lives Matter memorabilia, with the consultation of archivists at the Library of Congress and Howard University.

“What would be the point of the last two or three months of my life if the day I walk away, they’re already destroying [the pictures on the fence]?”

Seiler tearfully told WI Bridge on February 3, less than a week after she started removing protest signs and other artwork from the fence.

A couple weeks prior to her Instagram post, when pedestrian and vehicular traffic had been restored to portions of Downtown D.C. after the Inauguration, Seiler recounted seeing a sign she erected with the words “Blue LIES Matter” emblazoned across it torn down. She said this happened within two hours of the police opening the space, and minutes after she followed a Trump supporter elsewhere in the vicinity.

That moment, Seiler said, inspired her to preserve 78 panels of photos and antiracist artwork posted along the fence blocking Lafayette Park, all of which she said would be available for viewing on Flicker at the end of this week. Selier also told WI Bridge that the D.C. Public Library Foundation will soon conduct an oral history presentation.

Since August, when Lafayette Park briefly reopened and protesters moved along the outskirts of Black Lives Matter Plaza, Seiler, who could be found at protests in front of the White House, made it a point to protect the fence that protesters, since May, had used as a canvas for antiracist messaging.

Things however would heat up throughout October, during the weekend of November 12, throughout much of December, and in the days before the siege of the U.S. Capitol, when Seiler and a couple of her comrades went toe to toe with Trump supporters who often converged on Black Lives Matter Plaza with garbage bags.

This battle would continue well into the early days of the New Year, before the siege on the U.S. Capitol and the authorities’ subsequent cordoning of Downtown D.C.

In December, when D.C. police officers told her that they couldn’t stop people from defacing posters, Seiler reverted to either staring down or placing her body in front of those she saw making the attempt. She and her comrades also posted up in Black Lives Matter Plaza for several hours at a time, without even as much as using the restroom.

Reflecting on what transpired over the last few months, Seiler said she felt at peace with her choice, despite the pushback she received from other activists on the front lines, as seen on exchanges on her Instagram platform since the latter part of January.

“Everything I managed to save, we stored it somewhere,” Seiler told The Bridge. “We had an archivist from the Library of Congress (LOC) who told us how to take things for providence. I just wanted to take everything down and take it to LOC and Howard. We took a picture of what was on each panel, and what we gave to each institution.”

NOTE: Kerrie Williams of the D.C. Public Library confirmed that its Events, Exhibits & Development department facilitated an interview with Seiler about her role as an activist and caretaker of Black Lives Matter Plaza. Neither the Library of Congress or Howard University returned WI Bridge’s inquiry.

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