By Ruth Ann Ruiz
The Post Newspaper Features Editor
The baby’s feet are dangling freely in the air, while her mama’s feet are supported by a “Colored U.S. Solider.” His feet are supported by an enslaved Black man in shackles. The baby represents the future generations of Black Americans.
Perhaps the artist intended for the child’s feet to symbolize the hope that future Black children will be able to live a carefree life in America. This is not stated by the artist, but art is open for the viewer to take away more than even what an artist intended.
“A Blank Slate” is a sculpture created by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo a Ghanaian artist. His monument has been on tour in the US for the past two years. The study of intense human anguish started its US journey in Kentucky and has left a trail of observers. The sculpture will be installed through July 5th in the back courtyard of Ashton Villa.
Along the way “A Blank Slate” opened the conversation for expanding our historic monuments to include more of the Black American story of our U.S. history. The work of art has helped many individuals see and grasp the parts or our history that seem too painful to look upon.
Some observers of the work are overwhelmed with the pain that is depicted in the eyes of the man at the bottom as his face is crushed into the ground, and his neck is bound by metal shackles. The artist paid close attention to communicating suffering through the eyes of the bottom individual in the monument.
The “Colored U.S. Soldier” is depicted with a noose around his neck as a reminder that many Black Americans fought for our nation in many wars, and yet, when they tried to exercise their freedoms, some were lynched. In his hand the soldier carries a tattered American flag on a pole.
The woman on top of the solider represents modern Black female activists as they gather in protest, standing up for their rights and the rights of their children.
The artist created an immersive experience for everyone to express their own thoughts and feelings freely as they take in the overwhelming agony of the humans in the sculpture.
The placard at the top of the monument held in the woman’s hands is a place where observers are invited to log in to the monument’s Wi-Fi and write their own comment. Each time someone writes on the Blank Slate’s virtual slate, the words are visible for 60 seconds.
Bringing the work of art to Galveston was an intention Sam Collins III set out to accomplish upon first learning of its existence. While Collins was in Ghana with a group of Rice University professors, he was able to reach out to the artist with a request to bring the work of art to Galveston.
Collins sought to have Galveston’s stop be the last on the tour and to fill the space in April, which is considered Confederate history month. The monument will remain in Galveston through Juneteenth with its final day on July 5th in honor of Frederick Douglass’ 5th of July speech, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July. ”
“We started talking about April, not to tear down other monuments or destroy history but to add to the complex history of the US. The fact that the monument is in Galveston two years after it arrived in the US is symbolic of the Emancipation Proclamation being read in Galveston two years after it was written,” shared Collins.
Bringing the monument to Galveston was a coordinated effort with the Nia Cultural Center leading the way and Rosenberg Library partnering to host the statue.
“A Blank Slate” monument is an artistic masterpiece that represents a deeply dark and painful history. At the same time, it represents hope and healing. I love the interactive feature of this installation, as it provides an opportunity to give everyone a voice to express their thoughts and perspectives. I hope that the statue will evoke deeper thought, discussion and reflection in private and public spaces about the impact of the atrocity of enslavement, and the lasting impact on society. This incredible piece of art will help to expand the understanding of the whole story and that will inspire activism and improved culture,” Sue Johnson, founder of Nia Cultural Center, shared.
Collins is grateful to the many supporters who made it possible for the monument to be part of the Juneteenth Legacy Project. Included in his support group is Sheridan Lorenz, who served with him as co-chair in establishing the project. “Much of the work we are doing in Galveston is a result of her generosity and support,” said Collins.
Viewing the monument is open to the public for free. Its emotional cost to the viewers is one that each individual will need to measure for themselves. The collective result of integrating more aspects of our nation’s history into public art and public awareness will be measured as we go into the future.