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What Say Ye Upon the Blank Slate?

by Ruth Ann Ruiz

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. 

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Joan Holbert Hubert April 13, 2023 - 3:51 pm

This is such a riveting piece of art. I found myself staring at it for minutes, trying not to cry. It is so expressive of the sorrow that our Ancestors had to endure. Thank you Sam Collins for bringing this to Galveston for the world to see and ponder over.

Sue Johnson April 23, 2023 - 4:02 pm

This amazing piece of art encourages us to take an honest look at where we’ve been as a nation and where we still must go.

Kim Halvorson June 21, 2023 - 8:46 am

I pray (in my own native way) daily since the escalator trauma that brought all this pain back to the surface. I remind myself that these folks felt this way all along – the reality guy gave them an excuse to say it out loud again. At first, I thought this a catastrophe but I am beginning to see how and who I will deal with based on the oval office not for prime time crud and how they speak about it. I never start anymore, I’d rather get in a well rehearsed sarcastic quip and walk away than waste my heart energy on those that truly seem blind to this country’s reality’s. It is no surprise that this country has a very racist foundation. It started with steal, murder, steal their children and then kill the indian, save the man. And then slavery. I will never forget coming home from first grade in very rural Montana having just learned about modern slavery. I thought, until then, that only happened in biblical times. I was in tears by the time I hit the house at the bottom of the lane. Our mother had to prove to me than none of my family were any part of that hideous practice. She did. Our Scot and Norwegian sides married the native. One of them even wrote about who the honest people were in the territory and it was not the “homesteader” families. The sculpture is amazing and powerful and I wish I could see it in person. In grade school, as a female in the 60’s surrounded by very patriarchal values, I realized I had more in common with my family and friends of color than those not. The matriarchy was highly valued in our tribes and in my family. The struggles against those that didn’t think much of our ability was and is very real. I have been underestimated the whole of my adult life.It’s worse now that I cannot always hide my disability and I’m 62, And like this piece, I have always know how hard my ancestors that came before me worked to hold me up so I could make it. I am still trying to help my young adults. Amazing talent in this piece. Love it.


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