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She guarded the Black Lives Matter memorial. Now, she's working to protect its art

Nadine Seiler poses with a piece of artwork that was once displayed on the Black Lives Matter fence near the White House. Seiler is working to find new homes for the 700-plus artifacts left by protesters.
Nadine Seiler poses with a piece of artwork that was once displayed on the Black Lives Matter fence near the White House. Seiler is working to find new homes for the 700-plus artifacts left by protesters.

Nadine Seiler has an activist spirit, very "noisy, she says," but always "in the crowd."

"I'm the voice that you hear that you don't know where it's coming from," says Seiler in an interview with NPR.

The Waldorf, Md., resident is stepping forward this time as one of several people preserving protesters' artwork from the Black Lives Matter memorial fence that stood between protesters and the White House. The displays bore the faces and names of Black people who died from police violence.

As authorities took down the fence earlier this year, Seiler made it her mission to preserve every artifact that she could — knowing that each sign represents a part of the nation's history.

Seiler is working with fellow protester Karen Irwin from New York to find new homes for what Seiler estimates are more than 700 items.

Signs on the fence surrounding the White House during the 2020 Presidential election. The fence, which came down in January 2021, once served as home to nearly 700+ signs and artwork during the course of the racial protests in D.C. following George Floyd's murder.
Probal Rashid / LightRocket via Getty Images
Signs on the fence surrounding the White House during the 2020 Presidential election. The fence, which came down in January 2021, once served as home to nearly 700+ signs and artwork during the course of the racial protests in D.C. following George Floyd's murder.

She and others spent months watching over the fence and artwork

Protesters came to Lafayette Square Park next to the White House following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and federal authorities quickly put up metal barricades to block off various entrances to the site.

The fencing went up Jun. 4, 2020, and came down on Jan. 30, 2021.

Seiler and others had spent long hours at the fence on what is now called Black Lives Matter Plaza.

"Whether it was going to rain, snow or ice, we lived at the fence," Seiler says. "There was somebody on that fence or within a few feet of the fence, wherever the police pushed us."

Signs on the fence surrounding the White House on Nov. 4, 2020. The majority of the artwork featured on the fence will be preserved in an archive in partnership with Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library.
Eric Lee / Bloomberg via Getty Images
Signs on the fence surrounding the White House on Nov. 4, 2020. The majority of the artwork featured on the fence will be preserved in an archive in partnership with Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library.

As the group stood guard, the artwork on the memorial became a symbol for the movement, a place where people stopped and took pictures, honoring what the fence and its signs stood for.

The drive to save the artwork was inspired on Oct. 26, when demonstrators saw counterprotesters tearing down the signs displayed on the fence.

"Because people would come by and vandalize this stuff, part of me felt disrespected," Seiler says. "I made sure the stuff wasn't going to get torn down."

The items are on their way to becoming digitally archived

Seiler made it her mission to pick up and save as many signs as she could.

Thanks to her and others, the artwork is being housed in a storage unit as it waits to be scanned by archivists at Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library, a joint project with the D.C. Public Library.

"The collection serves as part of the record of one of the most important social justice movements of our time," says Jodi Hoover of Enoch Pratt Library.

Hoover, who serves as the library's digital resources manager, tells NPR that preserving and documenting historical events in real-time is not only incredibly important but is also a rare opportunity.

A steel fence at Lafayette Park was turned into a makeshift memorial after DC Mayor Muriel Bowser renamed that section of 16th street "Black Lives Matter Plaza" near the White House in June 2020. The artwork that was once displayed on the fence is currently being digitally archived for a future visual collection.
Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
A steel fence at Lafayette Park was turned into a makeshift memorial after DC Mayor Muriel Bowser renamed that section of 16th street "Black Lives Matter Plaza" near the White House in June 2020. The artwork that was once displayed on the fence is currently being digitally archived for a future visual collection.

"By working collaboratively we are able to preserve and provide access to this collection for years to come. It is my hope that it will be of use now and in the future," she says.

The signs are being driven to Baltimore by Seiler in batches of 100 and nearly 300 signs have already been digitally archived.

But according to Seiler, four more batches are still left to be scanned.

"I don't expect this process to be over before the end of 2021, given it takes six to eight weeks to scan a batch," she says.

Once the items have all been scanned, Seiler says the gifting process for the artwork will then begin.

Ideally, she says organizers with the D.C. chapter of Black Lives Matter would like for the pieces to stay in the hands of Black organizations but mentions that wherever the pieces may land, she hopes people would recognize their worth and the messages behind them.

"I don't know what it's going to take, but whoever takes some has to agree to care for them," Seiler says.

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