BY Stephen Nartey, 11:30am November 01, 2022,

The Ark of Return that washes the dark past of slavery endured by 15 million Africans

Ark of Return. Photo: UN

The Ark of Return is a permanent slave memorial commissioned by the United Nations to pay a glowing tribute to the resilience, anti-slavery campaigners, and the enslaved people who fought to have slavery abolished.

The Ark of Return took inspiration from the triangular slave route used by sailors as well as slave owners and the story of a slave castle on Goree Island in Senegal. Many slaves were placed in chains and held on Goree Island before the slave ships came and ferried them to the plantations. Its ‘door of no return’ signage sent chills down the lead sculptor, Rodney Leon, when they were carrying out their research to design the sculpture, he told the United Nations news portal.

The Ark of Return embodies the memories of 15 million men, women and children who were shipped from Africa to work under inhumane conditions as slaves. The Ark of Return, which was designed by Haitian-born American Leon, was a product of an international competition organized by the United Nations to commission a permanent slave memorial.

Walking through the details of the memorial, Leon explained that the triangular marble panels represented the routes the ships used in transporting the millions of slaves. He depicted this by carving the three maps which the slave ships used on the walls of the memorial. According to him, the maps are to enable people to imagine the hard reality the enslaved people endured while onboard slave vessels.

Leon indicated that the routes are interconnected from West Africa to South America, the Caribbean and Central America, and to North America. According to him, one towering imagery they were torn between how to present was the slave ships and how they packed the slaves for shipment.

He explained that the Ark of Return, therefore, represents the space the slaves were kept and serves as a sanctuary to right the wrongs of slavery. He said they decided to have one symbol called “the trinity figure” to represent the spirit of the enslaved people who lost their lives or suffered as a result of the transatlantic slave trade.

Leon said the trinity figure was expected to be genderless so that it could stand there for the men, women and children who were forced out of their comfort space and confined in slave ships. The trinity figure’s face, hand and leg were built with black Zimbabwean granite.

He explained that the outstretched hand of the trinity figure is supposed to embrace the future generations who come to learn about their story. However, the tear that appears to be dropping from the eyes is meant to wash the side of the face and prepare the stage for the third element of the project. The third element is the triangular waterfall that collects the tears from the eyes of the trinity figure.

He intimated that his Haitian background to a large extent influenced the design of the Ark of No Return memorial. Leon indicated that the memorial does not only serve the conditions the enslaved people endured but also the contemporary economic hardships and other challenges confronting today’s generation.

He explained that as a Haitian, he deeply appreciates the enslaved people’s past of seeking to be free and the struggles his country was engaged in before it attained independence. He added that the objective of the memorial is to remind today’s generation of the past to enable them to draw inspiration to carry on to the future.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 1, 2022


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