Yesterday, Rice University in Houston debuted a temporary interactive sculpture that pays homage to African American history and the ongoing struggle for racial justice.
Located in front of the Provisional Campus Facilities (PCF) tents on College Way, the sculpture, A Blank Slate: Hope for a New America, has traveled to over a dozen venues since summer 2021. The powerful work was created by Ghanaian sculptor Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, who is best known for his outdoor work Nkyinkyim Installation, which is dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Transatlantic slave trade and is on display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
Created in response to the national conversations around Confederate Monuments, A Blank Slate features four Black figures: a slave ancestor with bound hands and feet, a lynched Union solider, an activist mother, and a young child. The adult figures are stacked on top of each other, each acting as a support for the next generation, while the young child is carried on the mother’s back.
The Blank Slate Monument website states that the artist’s approach involved:
– Interrogating the non-inclusive commemoration of events surrounding the Civil War
– Mak[ing] 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
– Contribut[ing] to dialogues, especially amongst American citizens whether Black, white or any other race
– Allow[ing the] 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
The sculpture includes an interactive component for participants to share their thoughts and reflections, which are then displayed on a digital screen. The exhibition of the sculpture at Rice is sponsored by the Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS), the School of Humanities, the School of Social Sciences, and Hanszen College.
Earlier this year, the university announced plans to relocate a statue of its founder, William Marsh Rice, after years of complaints from students. The statue, which sits in a prominent location on campus, will be moved to a less visible space and historical context will be added indicating that Mr. Rice owned at least 15 enslaved people. When the university was first chartered in 1891, it was exclusively for white students and did not change its policy until 1965. The university has hired the landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz (NBW) to lead the transformation of the Academic Quadrangle, where the statue is currently located. The plan will feature a new artwork celebrating the beginning of integration at the university. Last year, NBW was part of the team that designed the Burial Ground for Enslaved People at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In a press release Jeff Fleisher, interim director of CAAAS and professor and chair of Rice’s Department of Anthropology stated, “We are very excited to have the Blank Slate Monument on Rice University’s campus, the first university to host it on its tour across the U.S. Our hope is that it will spark meaningful and challenging conversations on campus, as we think about monuments and their relationship to Black history more broadly.”
The work will be on view at Rice through Tuesday, April 4, and then will travel to its second Texas location at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston.