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Monument to slavery now set for 2015 unveiling at UN

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor — features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 04, 2014    

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PLANS were for the 'Ark of Return' , the permanent memorial to be housed at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York in honour of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, to be erected in time for the 69th session of the General Assembly, next month. But the timing has been pushed back to a date in 2015 to coincide with the start of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).

The monument, which was designed by American of Haitian descent Rodney Leon, will be triangular in shape and made from gleaming white marble panels supported by a stainless steel structural frame, according to information from the permament mission of Jamaica to the UN.

The triangular patterns, it said, are reminiscent of the triangular route of the slave trade which existed between the continents. The Ark of Return is a vessel which acts in a manner to undo the tragedy of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade in order to heal and move forward in a positive manner, a document from the mission said.

Speaking with the Jamaica Observer on the eve of Emancipation Day, last Thursday, Jamaica' s former Permanent Representative to the UN on the permanent memorial Ambassador Raymond Wolfe pointed out that it was Jamaica that pushed for the monument to be erected.

That effort, he explained, was born out of a desire to have the world' s observance of the tragedy, which was the transatlantic slave trade extend beyond March 25 the International Day for the Commemoration of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

With a view to the realisation of this project, a Permanent Memorial Committee was established under Jamaica' s chairmanship. It also included Brazil, Ghana, Kenya, The Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar, Senegal, Suriname, the United Kingdom, and the African Union, Wolfe said.

Out of their deliberations, the decision was taken to erect at a place of prominence at United Nations Headquarters that is easily accessible to delegates, United Nations staff and visitors, a permanent memorial in acknowledgement of the tragedy and in consideration of the legacy of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade .

Leon is the designer and architect of the African Burial Ground National Monument in lower Manhattan. His Ark of Return won from a field of 310 people, representing 83 nationalities worldwide. Ambassador Wolfe was unable to say whether or not any Jamaicans entered the competiton and how they placed. When presenting the project at the unveiling last year, he said: " The Ark of Return is a symbolic spiritual space and object where one can interact and pass through for acknowledgement, contemplation, meditation, reflection, healing, education and transformation.

He explained that the memorial's exterior will resemble the image of a vessel or ship in acknowledgement of the millions of African people transported on slave ships to different parts of the world during the Middle Passage. It is conceptually organised into three parts a three-dimensional map inscribed on the interior with the African continent at its centre, a full scale human figure lying horizontally in front of a wall inscribed with images of the interior of a slave ship, and a triangular reflecting pool where visitors are invited to pour libations or say prayers in memory of the millions of souls that were lost.

Ambassador Wolfe said Leon's piece satisfied the criterion of enshrining the legacy of millions of African captives whose untold stories, memories and contribution to humanity forever changed the world' s societies .

It is one of the legacies of the Jamaican leadership and presence in the UN, he said.

Dr David Boxer, former curator of the National Gallery of Jamaica, was among the judges who reviewed the entries.

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