After a heated debate that led to one artist withdrawing her proposal, Vinnie Bagwell’s Victory Beyond Sims will replace the removed statue of J. Marion Sims in New York City’s Central Park. Sims, who has been called the “father of modern gynecology,” conducted cruel experiments on enslaved black women in the 19th century. His statue was removed from its pedestal in East Harlem in April 2018 following prolonged protests. Bagwell’s proposal was chosen from a group of four artists that also included Simone Leigh, Kehinde Wiley, and Wangechi Mutu.
The chosen statue is an over-18-foot-tall winged bronze figure, holding an eternal flame in one hand and the Staff of Asclepius (the Greek god of medicine) in the other. A panel of seven judges had previously selected Simone Leigh’s proposal in a 4 to 3 vote. But the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs announced that, recognizing the local community favored Bagwell’s proposed statue, Leigh had withdrawn her proposal.
After the judges voted in favor of Leigh’s proposal, representatives of East Harlem groups present at a public meeting argued that their voices were not heard and that the selection process for the winning proposal had not been made clear, according to a Hyperallergic report. They pointed out that Bagwell was the only finalist who showed up to the meeting to vouch for her proposal. Tom Finkelpearl, Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner, said the judges’ decision was “advisory” before closing the meeting.
Leigh’s statue depicted a bronze female figure resting, meant to represent black women “whose bodies were used to advance science,” according to her proposal.
In a statement, Leigh said:
I greatly appreciate that my proposal was selected by the committee. However, I am aware that there is significant community sentiment for another proposal. Since this is a public monument in their neighborhood, I defer to them and have withdrawn my work.
The Department of Cultural Affairs added that the city will work with Bagwell and local residents to refine the statue’s design. The statue is expected to be installed in 2021.