FEATURE Architect of UN slavery memorial explains The Ark of Return

UN Photo/Devra BerkowitzA close-up of details from the permanent memorial in acknowledgement of the tragedy and in consideration of the legacy of slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.Looking to the futureThat third element is a triangular waterfall, created by the tears that flow from the face of the ‘trinity statue’ into two triangular reflecting pools. Mr. Leon says this element, located outside of the memorial, looks ahead to the future.“It’s really about dealing with our current conditions of contemporary slavery and how that actually is something we need to be fighting today,” he says. “It’s about acknowledging that condition and thinking about future generations and educating future generations so this tragedy doesn’t happen again in the future. So that’s why it’s pointing the way forward for us after you’ve passed through.”It’s really about dealing with our current conditions of contemporary slavery and how that actually is something we need to be fighting today,Mr. Leon says this final element is a “critical component” of the memorial because of the educational component it contains. And it is that part of the project that excites him most. While acknowledging that he will be “very excited and relieved” when the memorial is revealed to the public, he says he will be most moved by seeing schoolchildren moving through the monument, learning about the history to which it speaks.“Those are the moments that I find that are much more satisfying,” he says. “It’s going to be exciting to actually be there on the day of the unveiling but I think that it’s also the ongoing education moving forward from there that actually brings me ongoing joy as well.” UN Photo/Devra BerkowitzDetails from the permanent memorial in acknowledgement of the tragedy and in consideration of the legacy of slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.Pack in as much “human cargo” as possibleOther imagery that struck Mr. Leon and his team during research for the project included drawings of actual slave ships, depicting cross-sections of vessels and showing their systematic organisation in order to pack in as much “human cargo” as possible.“We felt that that experience was very much something that needed to be visually described,” he says, referring to the human forms, stacked horizontally in three levels, barely able to sit-up. “I think they lost at lest 15 per cent or more of the ‘cargo’ on a typical slave journey.”And one of the most important elements of the memorial is that of a deliberately androgynous human sculpture, called ‘the trinity figure,’ representing the human spirit and the spirit of the men, women and children of African descent whose deaths resulted from the Transatlantic Slave Trade.“A lot of people had to suffer in very confined quarters,” he says. “And the reason why it kind of seems like it’s androgynous, it’s sort of meant to represent those three elements – men, women and children. You’re sort of not really supposed to be able to tell.”The figure’s leg, hand and face are made from black Zimbabwean granite.“It has an outreached hand that’s meant to kind of reach out to people that are coming in,” he says, going on to describe one of the key aspects of the entire memorial. “It features a kind of tear that comes out of the face. That tear is supposed to wash down the side of the face and sets up the third element in the project.” UN Photo/Devra BerkowitzDetails from the permanent memorial in acknowledgement of the tragedy and in consideration of the legacy of slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Maps that help us acknowledge the impact, the tragedyMr. Leon says the tactile elements are meant to encourage fuller engagement and he hopes the monument can become both a pilgrimage for the public and a totem for dignitaries at the UN, reminding them, as they deal with global issues on a daily basis, of mistakes made in the past. UN Photo/Rick BajornasThe Ark of Return, the Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, located at the Visitors’ Plaza of UN Headquarters in New York. A spiritual space of return“It was such an international process, an international project, and that actually makes me feel very good inside,” he says, noting the inclusion of teams of people from the Caribbean, different parts of Africa as well as Europe. “And I think that really speaks about the transcendence of where we have come from in order to be in this place today and how that can become part of like the healing process.”Designed to pay tribute to the courage of slaves, abolitionists and unsung heroes while promoting greater recognition of the contributions made by slaves and their descendants to societies worldwide, the project’s name, ‘Ark of Return,’ was inspired by maps of the triangular slave trade and by the story of a slave castle on Gorée Island in Senegal.I think that really speaks about the transcendence of where we have come from in order to be in this place today and how that can become part of like the healing processIt was at Gorée Island that slaves were held in captivity before being shipped away. A door at the castle was known as the ‘door of no return,’ and Mr. Leon says the image was a “very tragic” one to him.“We were also interested in the idea of the slave ships and these vessels that carried people through tragic conditions to the new world,” he says. “So we felt it would be a good counterpoint to establish a spiritual space of return, an ‘Ark of Return,’ a vessel where we can begin to create a counter-narrative and undo some of that experience.”The aim was not only to document and remember the past but also to look beyond it and move forward into the future, allowing people to experience the tragedy and simultaneously to communicate and heal.Ahead of the memorial’s unveiling this week, the UN News Service got a sneak preview of ‘The Ark of Return’ on a private tour with Mr. Leon. Walking around the memorial, interacting with it and explaining his intentions with the design, he explains that that is also what he expects visitors to the UN to do as well. Designed by Rodney Leon, an American architect of Haitian descent who was chosen in 2013 as the winner of an international competition attracting a total of 310 entries from 83 countries, ‘The Ark of Return’ honours the memories of the estimated 15 million men, women and children who were victims of the largest forced migration in history.“It makes me feel extremely proud that I can play a role and a part in the commemoration of such an important and historic day,” Mr. Leon says in an interview. “I feel really proud that we have a physical marker and a place of remembrance for this annual celebration to take place moving forward.”Having also been chosen to design the African Burial Ground National Monument in lower Manhattan, erected on a spot where 15,000 people of African origin were buried over a period of around 100 years from the 1690s until 1794, Mr. Leon is familiar with art relating to slavery and the African experience in the Americas.My parents were always able to communicate to us as a family in terms of our history and our cultureHe also acknowledges that his own background played a powerful role in drawing him to enter the design competition. As a Haitian-American, he says he feels in touch with Haitian liberation and the people’s struggle to be the first independent African state in the western hemisphere.“My parents were always able to communicate to us as a family in terms of our history and our culture,” he says. “And I think that that plays a role in my being extremely proud of our Haitian and our African heritage. And as a result, when we have these legacies and these opportunities I think I tend to gravitate towards them.”Having won the competition, Mr. Leon assembled a complex team to tackle the project, which included other architects, as well as structural, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers, sculptors, steel workers, lighting designers and people with expertise in building water features. These three triangular patterns describe the slave routes [it] helps us acknowledge the impact, the tragedyHighlighting some of the features of the monument, he notes the triangular marble panels, which were inspired by the maps of the triangular trade in slaves. The maps are also reflected explicitly in the structure, with three such maps etched into the walls, so visitors are confronted by the uncomfortable truth.“These three triangular patterns describe the slave routes from specific locations in West Africa and throughout Africa to South America, to the Caribbean and Central America, and to North America,” he says. “So this map is supposed to really help us acknowledge the impact, the tragedy, the scale of the impact of the global slave trade and how it really transformed the world.” read more

Opposition Leader edges closer to submitting new list of nominees for

Opposition Leader, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo has indicated that he is one step closer to submitting a new list of nominees to President David Granger for his consideration for the post of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM).Jagdeo, at a press conference today, at Freedom House, disclosed to media operatives that the consultations with the shortlisted persons have already begun and he expects to conclude this process soon. However, he asserted that he does not want to pronounce on a specific time since discussions with some candidates might take longer than anticipated.“If I can go through the process by the end of the week, then by Monday, but I don’t want to say that [because] in consulting with people, you also have to understand they need time too,” he explained.The names of the shortlisted candidates –some of which were printed in the State newspaper- were not disclosed to the media as Jagdeo said; “it would be premature to confirm those are the names I spoke to, or to submit as part of the final group of six.”Last year,  Jagdeo had submitted his first list of nominees after extensive consultations with various stakeholders for the position of GECOM Chairman. These names included; Governance and Conflict Resolution Specialist, Lawrence Lachmansingh; Attorney-at-Law and Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram; businesswoman and former broadcast executive, Rhyaan Shah; Retired Major General, Norman Mc Lean; Business Executive, Ramesh Dookhoo and History Professor, James Rose.However, in January, 2017 the President officially responded to the Leader of the Opposition, stating that the nominees submitted for consideration for the post were “unacceptable”.Granger had justified his decision to refuse the list of nominees submitted by Jagdeo, stating that Guyana’s Constitution asserts that a current or sitting judge or someone eligible to be a judge in Guyana or the Commonwealth Caribbean is preferred to be appointed as Chairman of the electoral body.But, Legal luminary Anil Nandlall, who also served in the capacity of Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs under the previous administration, explained that the Constitution clearly contemplates two categories of persons for the post: “Firstly, a High Court judge or an Appellate Court judge, a former High Court or an Appellate Court judge or a person qualified to be a High Court or an Appellate Court judge. Secondly, or (disjunctive), any “fit and proper” person. However, from whichever category the persons come, they must be acceptable to the President,” Nandlall had said in a statement to the media shortly after the President’s announcement.In this regard, he had contended that the President’s rejection of the names on the grounds that the persons did not meet the constitutional requirements was “wholly untenable” and the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) would explore its available options including moving to the Courts to challenge the president’s decision.Granger, who is a longstanding member of the People’s National Congress, had accepted the nomination to serve as GECOM Chairman several years ago.Both sides have been very vocal on the issue, with the President stating that what obtained in the past was a mistake and the right way was now being chartered, while the Opposition posited that  Government could be looking to unilaterally appoint someone who would be beneficial to the APNU-AFC coalition, especially in the run up to 2020 elections.However, the President’s interpretation of the Constitution received more flack than those opposing it.One such person who disagreed with his interpretation was the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) General Secretary Lincoln Lewis.Lewis had highlighted that the Constitution indeed provides for suitable persons outside the realm of judges or those qualified to be judges to be appointed as GECOM Chairman. He also alluded to the appointments of past Chairmen of GECOM, including Dr Surujbally who recently retired from the post, leaving the seat vacant.Nevertheless, a team was established to meet with the Attorney General, Basil Williams, SC, as it pertained to the interpretation of Article 161 (2) but both meetings proved to be unfruitful.With no end to the stalemate in sight, Jagdeo agreed to provide the President with a new list of nominees. As such, it has been reported in the media that the second list of potential GECOM nominees include; Retired Justices Claudette Singh and B.S. Roy; PPP Member of Parliament and GECOM commissioner, Bibi Shadick;  Attorneys Timothy Jonas and Kashir Khan and environmentalist, Annette Arjoon-Martins. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)RelatedGECOM Chair 3rd list: Opposition Leader shortlists 10, says 1 already declinedJuly 12, 2017In “latest news”‘The final 6’: Discretion remains with the Leader of the Opposition – JagdeoJuly 10, 2019In “latest news”GECOM Chair: 3rd list to be submitted soon- JagdeoJuly 29, 2017In “latest news” read more