Leon's winning design "The Ark of Return" topped a field of 310 designs from 83 countries across five continents.
NEW YORK, NY — On the eve of the U.N. General Assembly’s annual debate, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon unveiled the winning design for a memorial to honor victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade at the U.N. headquarters.
“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,” Ki-moon said.
With ‘The Ark of Return’, Rodney Leon, the noted architect of Haitian descent who designed lower Manhattan’s African Burial Ground, bested a field of 310 designs from 83 countries across five continents.
Inspired by the competition’s theme, Acknowledge the Tragedy, Consider the Legacy, Lest We Forget, Leon’s design “depicts the global scale, complexity and impact of the triangular slave trade,” with three elements: images from the interior of a slave ship, a meditative reflecting pool, and a three dimensional map with Africa at its center.
“This is meant to communicate and educate visitors on the physical conditions endured by the millions of African people transported under extreme conditions during the middle passage,” Leon said.
Monday’s ceremony was attended by several international officials, including the U.N.’s 68th assembly president John W. Ashe, Jamaica’s prime minister Portia Simpson Miller, and Haiti’s newly appointed foreign affairs minister, Pierre Richard Casimir.
“The design will undoubtedly serve to inspire the many persons who will visit the memorial and remind us to never allow such crimes against humanity ever again,” Simpson Miller said.
Jamaica’s U.N. delegation, led by chairman of the Permanent Memorial Committee Courtenay Rattray (and former U.N. Ambassador Raymond Wolfe), steered the ambitious project that began in 2007, and faced numerous obstacles — namely raising the nearly $5 million needed to complete the memorial.
“This is a once in the lifetime opportunity to do something which is going to last generations and has had an impact on so many people’s lives, not only spiritually and emotionally but also in an educational capacity,” Leon said.