A Blank Slate

A Tribute to African American History in the Face of the Confederacy

The term “Confederate monument” often conjures up images of white army generals on horseback, leading the south into battle.

The Blank Slate Palimpsest Monument (“Blank Slate”) is an awe striking, allegorical deconstruction of that notion, challenging the onlooker to seek a deeper understanding of the “African American” experience before, during and after the American Civil War (1861-1865).

A  r  t  i  s  t     S  t  a  t  e  m  e  n   t

A Blank Slate Palimpsest

Blank is the slate that we write on, but we see through. We see through palimpsest of millions of civil rights placards begging for a chance to breathe… The rights to breathe.

I sculpt yes, but the statement is not my own. The statement is for the people. The African American people, the black people. And people who want to speak up against the tradition of injustice.

That is why the slate is left blank.

– Kwame Akoto-Bamfo

pal·imp·sest
/ˈpaləm(p)ˌsest/
noun: palimpsest; plural noun: palimpsests
a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.

  • something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

A  r  t  i  s  t     S  t  a  t  e  m  e  n   t

A Blank Slate Palimpsest

Blank is the slate that we write on, but we see through. We see through palimpsest of millions of civil rights placards begging for a chance to breathe… The rights to breathe.

I sculpt yes, but the statement is not my own. The statement is for the people. The African American people, the black people. And people who want to speak up against the tradition of injustice.

That is why the slate is left blank.

– Kwame Akoto-Bamfo

pal·imp·sest
/ˈpaləm(p)ˌsest/
noun: palimpsest; plural noun: palimpsests
a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.

  • something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

The Artist:
Kwame Akoto-Bamfo

Kwame Akoto-Bamfo is a versatile Ghanaian artist who is known for his work Nkyinkyim Installation/Museum, cultural activism and contributions to Ghanaian tertiary institutions and traditional communities.

His outdoor sculpture “Nkyinkyim Installation,” dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Transatlantic slave trade, is on display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The work is directly connected to a larger installation of the same name made up of over 1,500 portraits of Africans in the Diaspora.

The Artist:
Kwame Akoto-Bamfo

Kwame Akoto-Bamfo is a versatile Ghanaian artist who is known for his work Nkyinkyim Installation/Museum, cultural activism and contributions to Ghanaian tertiary institutions and traditional communities.

His outdoor sculpture “Nkyinkyim Installation” dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Transatlantic slave trade is on display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The work is directly connected to a larger installation of the same name made up of over 1,500 portraits of Africans in the Diaspora.

The Monument

The Monument

There are ‘problematic narratives’ that do not do justice to the African American experience of the confederate wars in America.

The Blank Slate Monument aims to change that narrative.

Kwame’s Approach

  • Interrogating the non-inclusive commemoration of events surrounding the Civil War
  • Make the monument serve as the very vehicle for nonviolent protest of confederate memorials and spaces which are insensitive to the African American experience and contributions
  • Contribute to dialogues, especially amongst American citizens whether black, white or any other race
  • Allow monument to serve as an intervention to white supremacy spaces and/or un-commemorated spaces associated with African American heroism, suffering and contribution to nation building

Symbolism of the Monument

The Pedestal

Pedestal – To put someone or something on a Pedestal is to place them above. It is to behave as if one person is more important than another. The artist characterizes the fact that African Americans are struggling to mount a base to be on the same level as the rest of American Heroes.

The Memory Jug

An American folk-art form that memorializes the dead. It is made up of a drinking jug or vessel riddled with historic and personal items. It has deep African roots and is a means of paying homage to a lot of groups whose sculptures cannot be added to the collection. Their various symbols are embossed on the memory jug.

The Slave Ancestor

His body is closest to the ground and both his hands and feet are bound. His bound hands support the struggling black union martyr and his face supports the feet of the soldier as well. He has no rights at all, thus his face is practically in the ground, yet he struggles to help those above him whom he cannot even see with his eyes. Viewers may be moved by his facial expression and his face on the bare ground be it concrete, grass or dirt. He will be in loins cloth and bound in chains. 

The Lynched Union Soldier Martyr

An unknown Union army soldier with a noose around his neck; He struggles to keep an American flag up even as he supports the activist mother. He also carries a memory jug.

The Struggling Mother Activist

Responsible for mending broken men and giving hope to children challenged with hopelessness. The mother is not only responsible for birthing the next generation, but she also has to support the unknown martyr whilst still raising a baby. She represents contemporary struggles in the freedom tradition.

The Baby

Representing the future generation, her face pressed against the mother’s back will mimic the way the enslaved ancestor’s face is pressed against the ground. Justifying the reason why her mother is protesting.

The Placards

Perhaps the most important symbol, the placard represents and becomes the voice of the ordinary people. It is the medium which allows the ordinary person to voice their views on all issues concerning black history, confederate monuments and the sculpture itself.

Symbolism of the Monument

The Pedestal

Pedestal – To put someone or something on a Pedestal is to place them above. It is to behave as if one person is more important than another. The artist characterizes the fact that African Americans are struggling to mount a base to be on the same level as the rest of American Heroes.

The Memory Jug

An American folk-art form that memorializes the dead. It is made up of a drinking jug or vessel riddled with historic and personal items. It has deep African roots and is a means of paying homage to a lot of groups whose sculptures cannot be added to the collection. Their various symbols are embossed on the memory jug.

The Slave Ancestor

His body is closest to the ground and both his hands and feet are bound. His bound hands support the struggling black union martyr and his face supports the feet of the soldier as well. He has no rights at all, thus his face is practically in the ground, yet he struggles to help those above him whom he cannot even see with his eyes. Viewers may be moved by his facial expression and his face on the bare ground be it concrete, grass or dirt. He is dressed in loins cloth and bound in chains. 

The Lynched Union Soldier Martyr

An unknown Union army soldier with a noose around his neck; He struggles to keep an American flag up even as he supports the activist mother. He also carries a memory jug.

The Struggling Mother Activist

Responsible for mending broken men and giving hope to children challenged with hopelessness. The mother is not only responsible for birthing the next generation, but she also has to support the unknown martyr whilst still raising a baby. She represents contemporary struggles in the freedom tradition.

The Baby

Representing the future generation, her face pressed against the mother’s back will mimic the way the enslaved ancestor’s face is pressed against the ground. Justifying the reason why her mother is protesting.

The Placards

Perhaps the most important symbol, the placard represents and becomes the voice of the ordinary people. It is the medium which allows the ordinary person to voice their views on all issues concerning black history, confederate monuments and the sculpture itself.

A  r  t  i  s  t     S  t  a  t  e  m  e  n   t

The Placard

The placard is not just a symbol but it is literally the voice of the people. I left it blank because a monumental few words from one artist will not be enough to express the thoughts and emotions of millions of people. An artist has no right to play with idealistic symbolism and think that every thing will be ok. It is blank because I hope participants will fill it with their own words and emotions.

The blank slate, however does not stand in a vacuum. The placard and various words, hashtags, opinions come from the the freedom tradition that was created ever since enslaved Africans set foot in the United States of America and the world away from wherever they called home. A tradition expressed through hunger strikes, acts of defiance and civil rights movements. It is my belief that when participants write down their thoughts on the placards, a palimpsest of the freedom tradition shines through and that is when the heroes of America are revealed.

– Kwame Akoto-Bamfo

A  r  t  i  s  t     S  t  a  t  e  m  e  n   t

The Placard

The placard is not just a symbol but it is literally the voice of the people. I left it blank because a monumental few words from one artist will not be enough to express the thoughts and emotions of millions of people. An artist has no right to play with idealistic symbolism and think that every thing will be ok. It is blank because I hope participants will fill it with their own words and emotions.

The blank slate, however, does not stand in a vacuum. The placard and various words, hashtags, opinions come from the the freedom tradition that was created ever since enslaved Africans set foot in the United States of America and the world away from wherever they called home. A tradition expressed through hunger strikes, acts of defiance and civil rights movements. It is my belief that when participants write down their thoughts on the placards, a palimpsest of the freedom tradition shines through and that is when the heroes of America are revealed.

– Kwame Akoto-Bamfo

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.