The day before the unveiling of five statues along the Hudson River in Yonkers honoring enslaved Africans in New York, the artist and the city worked to repair two that suffered what appeared to be vandalism.
The city was able to remove a marker drawn on the plinth of one of them, but the statue of a little girl was scratched and discolored on her face.
“It’s a teachable moment,” artist Vinnie Bagwell said Thursday — a lesson that once public art is in place, anything can happen to it. And the city’s response matters.
Bagwell hoped the construction fence around the statues would be maintained until Thursday, the day before the unveiling, but the city removed it after they were installed. But, Bagwell said, when informed of the vandalism, city officials immediately acted to see what they could do.
“That’s the fun of being black,” Bagwell said. “You can never tell when you’re dealing with racism or if you’re dealing with a generic brand vandal.”
Honoring History: Yonkers statues tell story of enslaved Africans in New York
She plans to polish the girl’s face ahead of the unveiling, which will continue as scheduled Friday at 11:30 a.m., but additional restoration will be required.
Christina Gilmartin, Yonkers’ communications director, said the area had been added to the normal police patrol route and the city would consider installing cameras there.
Gilmartin said the city plans to meet with Bagwell on a restoration plan.
Bagwell said vandalism shouldn’t deter municipalities from putting up public art.
“The idea is that this piece of art is meant to heal,” said Bagwell, who called the vandalism heartbreaking.
Still, she said, “When I do public artwork, I kiss it goodbye.”
Writer Eduardo Cuevas contributed to this report.