arkThe design for the “Ark of Return” representing the permanent memorial in honor of the victims of slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was recently revealed. The memorial monument will be erected at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York in 2015 to coincide with the start of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).
The monument, designed by Haitian American Rodney Leon, will be triangular in shape and made from gleaming white marble panels supported by a stainless steel structural frame.

The triangular patterns will represent the triangular route of the slave trade which existed between the Americas, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe.  The design will express the cross-cultural and global impact of the slave trade, while honoring those who have died and those who have shared their struggle. The “Ark of Return” memorial monument will serve as a symbolic vessel for the healing of tragedy of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade in order to positively move forward.

Leon, who is also the designer and architect of the African Burial Ground National Monument in lower Manhattan won the design competition from a field of 310 people, representing 83 nationalities worldwide. When presenting his project at the unveiling, 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." Leon went on to say, "People of African descent need to learn about history in a way that is not filled with shame but pride.” He added that the same is true for people not of African descent. “It is a shared human experience.”

officials at slave memorialThe monument memorial's exterior will resemble the image of a vessel or ship that transported the millions of African people to different parts of the world during the Middle Passage. The “Ark of Return” will be organized into three parts: a three-dimensional map inscribed on the interior with the African continent at its center, 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.

Former Permanent Representative to the UN on the permanent memorial Ambassador Raymond Wolfe of Jamaica has pointed out that it was Jamaica that pushed for the monument to be erected. He explained that the idea for the monument was born out of a desire to have the world’s observance of the tragedy to extend beyond March 25 the International Day for the Commemoration of the Abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. As a result, a Permanent Memorial Committee, chaired by Jamaica was established that also included Brazil, Ghana, Kenya, The Netherlands, Portugal, Qatar, Senegal, Suriname, the United Kingdom, and the African Union.

Ambassador Wolfe said that Leon's depiction for the monument 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 was decided to erect the monument at a place of prominence at United Nations Headquarters because it was a place of prominence that is easily accessible to national and international delegates and visitors as well as the United Nations staff. “It is one of the legacies of the Jamaican leadership and presence in the UN,” said Ambassador Wolfe.

return arkSecretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the memorial will acknowledge the struggle of the millions of Africans who, over the course of four centuries, were violently removed from their homelands, ruthlessly abused and robbed of their dignity. “The memorial will serve as a reminder of the bravery of those slaves, abolitionists and unsung heroes who managed to rise up against an oppressive system, fight for their freedom and end the practice,” he said.

UNESCO Director –General Irina Bokova said that the slave trade is not merely a thing of the past. "It has shaped the world we live in, it has molded the face of modern societies, creating indissoluble ties between peoples, irreversibly transforming economies, cultures and customs across the world." She went on to say, "The slave trade concerns not only people of African descent but the whole of humanity.” 

The 2015 date of the unveiling of the memorial monument on the grounds of the UN headquarters is to be announced.

Photo: (c) Left to right: H.E. Ambassador John W. Ashe, President of the 68th General Assembly; Rodney Leon, winner of the international competition to design a memorial to honour the victims of transatlantic slave trade; UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon; and UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova.