Ghanaian artist unveils sculpture at DuSable Museum
By Tia Carol Jones
Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo unveiled his sculpture, Blank Slate Monument, outside the DuSable Museum of African American History, located at 740 E. 56th Place, on Saturday, June 19. The unveiling was part of the DuSable Museum’s Juneteenth Celebration, as well as the museum’s first time opening to visitors since it closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19.
The Blank Slate Monument depicts a slave in chains, a Union soldier with a noose around his neck, holding a United States flag, and a woman with a lantern and a baby on her back. There is also a sign that is meant to be interactive that reads “Say Something.” People are encouraged to write their own message on that blank screen.
The sculpture, which is a tribute to African American History in the face of the Confederacy, is a traveling display that has been in Louisville, Princeton, Ind. and Detroit. It will also go to Brooklyn, New York City, Washington, DC, Selma, and Birmingham.
Akoto-Bamfo created the Blank Slate Monument to change the narrative of how Confederate monuments in America discounted the experience of African Americans during that same time period. It was his goal to have the monument serve as a form of nonviolent protest of confederate memorials.
Discussing the impact of COVID-19 on the arts and on cultural institutions in the city in a speech, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said, despite these challenges, the arts and culture scenes are important defining points of who “we are as a city.” She added, “We must recognize that and we must continue to support our arts and culture.”
Lightfoot said, no longer will the arts and cultural institutions in the city have to fight for scraps. She said she is asking city council to put a line item to support the arts and the culture community. Since its birth against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, the DuSable Museum has served as both a “witness and beacon for Black Chicago” the mayor continued.
Perri Irmer, president and CEO of the DuSable Museum, described the sculpture as “beautiful” and thanked Akoto-Bamfo for being there.
Akoto-Bamfo, who came all the way from Ghana, West Africa, said he has not lived the African-American experience firsthand. He said freedom shouldn’t be for sale and acknowledged what the fight for freedom has cost people. “That our ancestors, people like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, have paid for freedom with their lives. People have paid for freedom with their careers, people have paid for freedom with their reputations,” he said.
Akoto-Bamfo said there is a freedom tradition. And, although people who fought for it did not see it, we are benefitting from that tradition. He encouraged Black people to continue the tradition. “Put your fist in the air everyone, and say after me, ‘I am the embodiment of the freedom tradition,” he said.
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