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The Ancestor Project

A film by Northern Light Productions

Photo by Michele McDonald

A year ago, Kwame Akoto-Bamfo was a poor, unknown, idealistic 33-year-old Ghanaian sculptor.  He’d left Ghana only once, to go next door to Togo.    As an artist, he was drawn to the domestic slave trade, and in advance of the 400-year anniversary this year of his ancestors being enslaved and loaded onto boats, he embarked on what he calls “The Ancestor Project.”  This was an ambitious installation at Cape Coast Castle, also-called “slave castle” on the Ghanaian coastline where Africans were chained together in underground dungeons in the weeks before their trans-Atlantic migration to the New World where they arrived in the holds of ships as “black cargo.”  

For the Ancestor Project installation, Kwame sculpted 1,300 heads, each of them with distinctive faces and cast in concrete, representing the multitude of Africans who were imprisoned there.  He installed them on the cold ground of the dungeon cells.  He launched a crowdfunding site to raise money to make more sculptures – and then an email came that changed everything. 

Across the ocean in Montgomery, acclaimed civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson who’d founded the Equal Justice Initiative was creating the Legacy Museum and a memorial dedicated to black victims of racial equality in America.  It would explore the country’s history of slavery, lynching, segregation and Jim Crow, incorporating art and sculpture. He was looking for a sculptor who had experience making slaves, and stumbled on Kwame’s crowdfunding page.  He reached out to Kwame to see if he would create the figures that would greet visitors as they arrived at the Memorial and set the tone for the narrative.

In January, 2018, Kwame’s powerful sculptures of seven enslaved people, including a baby left the port of Ghana, bound for Alabama in its own version of a trans-Atlantic migration.  They’ve been viewed by more than 300,000 people, and received worldwide acclaim.   But they are only the beginning of this story, of what Kwame calls his Nkyinkyim project. (The word relates to a proverb about resilience amidst the twists and turns of life.)

Produced by Linda Matchan and Lydie Diakhate

Directed by Susan Gray

Assistant Director/ Cinematographer, Jesse Beecher

Executive Producer, Andy Kukura

Northern Light Productions

 

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