‘Blank Slate: Hope for a New America’ comes to the Civil Rights Memorial Center

Kwame Akoto-Bamfo's mobile art installation will be on display at the Montgomery, Alabama center today through July 5.

Blank Slate: Hope for a New America, a mobile art installation that challenges people to examine the Black experience in America, will be on temporary display starting today at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama. 

The 7-foot tall, 700-pound sculpture contains four figures and an interactive component that allows visitors to record their thoughts on social justice issues that are then displayed anonymously on a computer screen.

Kwame Akoto-Bamfo’s art installation, “Blank Slate: Hope for a New America,” will be on display at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama. (Source: Southern Poverty Law Center)

“It’s very exciting, especially in the time where we’re seeing so much legislation being passed that’s causing confusion and misinformation about teaching historical facts specifically as it relates to black people,” said Tafeni English, director of the Civil Rights Memorial Center, which is part of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The mobile Blank Slate was displayed last year at the King Center in Atlantathe DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, and the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in Louisville, among its showcase cities.   

“My objective,” said Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, who sculpted the statue, “was to show the African-American experience in the face of the Confederacy, in the face of African enslavement, in the face of police brutality, in the face of racial inequality and racial justice.”

According to Akoto-Bamfo, speaking to theGrio from his home in Ghana, it’s important for him, as an artist and an educator, to contribute to that ongoing discourse. “My work is keeping that dialogue alive so that we as Black people, or we as a community, decide what is best for us when we are faced with a human rights issue,” he said.

Blank Slate contains four figures, including an enslaved person, at the end of a platform. A lynched Union soldier has a noose around his neck. A struggling mother-activist represents mending broken men and giving hope to children. A baby on her back represents the future.

The sculpture, says English, is “designed to spark conversation and hopefully the questions they have lingering in their mind, they will ask those questions.”

“Blank Slate” challenges people to examine the Black experience in American history. (Source: BlackSlateMonument.com. Used with permission of Kwame Akoto-Bamfo)

English sees the statue as an opportunity to teach more about the role of Black people during the Civil War. She mentioned the notion of keeping Black people enslaved for economic gain and the part that Black soldiers played in the Civil War.

In what is arguably the most disturbing image of Akoto-Bamfo’s sculpture, an enslaved person lies prone with his hands and feet bound, a soldier’s boot pressed to his head, bearing a pained expression that seems as if his life drains away before you. 

While it has an eerie resemblance to former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck, Akoto-Bamfo completed the sculpture in 2019 — before Floyd was killed and Chauvin convicted of his murder. 

“It was created before George Floyd, but it is uncanny in its coincidence, the look on the face, and the resemblance to the final moments of brother George Floyd,” Akoto-Bamfo told theGrio. “That is exactly what this monument is trying to draw your attention to. That the killing is going on. Police brutality is going on. White supremacy is going on, and racial injustice is going on.”

“Blank Slate: Hope for a New America” will be displayed at the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, Alabama, until July 5, 2022.

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