Ghana’s sea of sculpted slave heads commemorate slave trade, 400 years on

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As the year 2019 marks 400 years since the commencement of the transatlantic slave trade, Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo has been sculpting hundreds of faces to represent the men and women who fell victim to slavery.

Akoto-Bamfo has placed the sculptures in Ada Foah, which was a major slave market in the 19th century when the region was under British rule.

Akoto-Bamfo says he has borrowed from the ancient Akan tradition of creating portraits of the dead.

What I hope to do is to capture an experience and let this art trigger a dialogue about who we are as an African people, who we were before and then where we are going.

Akoto-Bamfo’s aim is to keep Ada Foah’s history alive and start conversations about what happened here.

The sculpted portraits are the ‘enslaved African’ section of the Nkyinkyim (pronounced Cheen – Cheem) installation, a broader take on Ghanaian history.

Ghana's sea of sculpted slave heads commemorate slave trade, 400 years on
Ghana’s sea of sculpted slave heads commemorate slave trade, 400 years on

He said he used to choose his models in the past to portray specific expressions and traits. But now he prefers to use random models so as to sculpt faces from all over Africa because people from all over the continent were enslaved.

Akoto-Bamfo said the installation is evolving and will continue to grow and expand across continents. He’s added more sculptures over the last month.

The project began in 2010. Today he is working on several new pieces for museums in Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama in the United States. One of his pieces already stands in the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama.

Akoto-Bamfo believes the best way to remember the ancestors is to respect their descendants.

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