The Ark of Return is a permanent slave memorial commissioned by the United Nations to honor the resilience of anti-slavery campaigners and enslaved people who fought to abolish slavery.
The Ark of Return was inspired by the triangular slave route used by sailors as well as slave owners, as well as the story of a slave castle on Senegal’s Goree Island. Many slaves were chained and held on Goree Island before being transported to the plantations by slave ships. When the lead sculptor, Rodney Leon, was conducting research for the sculpture, the ‘door of no return’ signage sent chills down his spine, he told the United Nations news portal.
The Ark of Return represents the memories of 15 million African men, women, and children who were shipped from Africa to work as slaves in inhumane conditions. The Ark of Return, designed by Haitian-born American Leon, was the result of a United Nations-organized international competition to commission a permanent slave memorial.
Walking through the memorial’s details, Leon explained that the triangular marble panels represented the routes taken by ships transporting millions of slaves. He portrayed this by carving the three maps used by slave ships on the memorial’s walls. According to him, the maps are intended to help people imagine the harsh reality that enslaved people faced while aboard slave ships.
Leon stated that the routes connect West Africa to South America, the Caribbean, and Central America, as well as North America. According to him, one towering imagery they debated how to present was slave ships and how slaves were packed for shipment.
He went on to explain that the Ark of Return represents the space where slaves were kept and serves as a sanctuary to right the wrongs of slavery. He stated that they decided on a single symbol known as “the trinity figure” to represent the spirit of the enslaved people who died or suffered as a result of the transatlantic slave trade.
According to Leon, the trinity figure was expected to be genderless in order to represent the men, women, and children who were forced out of their comfort zone and confined in slave ships. The face, hand, and leg of the trinity figure are made of black Zimbabwean granite.
He explained that the trinity figure’s outstretched hand is meant to embrace future generations who come to learn about their history. The tear that appears to be falling from the eyes, on the other hand, is meant to wash the side of the face and set the stage for the third component of the project. The third element is a triangular waterfall that collects the trinity figure’s tears.
He hinted that the Ark of No Return memorial was heavily influenced by his Haitian heritage. Leon stated that the memorial serves not only the enslaved people’s conditions, but also the current economic hardships and other challenges confronting today’s generation.
He explained that, as a Haitian, he deeply appreciates the enslaved people’s history of seeking freedom, as well as the struggles his country faced before gaining independence. He went on to say that the memorial’s goal is to remind today’s generation of the past so that they can be inspired to carry on into the future.