Arts and Culture

A small crowd stood in the rain outside the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage Wednesday to get the first glimpse of a new monument.

The sculpture is called “Blank Slate: Hope For a New America.” It features four human figures: one for each century since settlers brought enslaved Africans to the North American British colony of Jamestown in 1619.  

The “Blank Slate” monument is intended as a “counterpoint” to the country’s thousands of public Confederate symbols.

Artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, who traveled from his home in Ghana for the unveiling, said while he sculpted the statue, it represents more than just his vision.

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo tells the crowd that he’s “very emotional and speaking from the heart,” so he might not find the right words. He watched the protests in Louisville from afar, and says the activists have inspired him to do more.

“I’m being backed by a whole lot of force, a whole lot of people spread across the African diaspora who have given me the opportunity to come and speak for them … who couldn’t be there during protests. This is our contribution,” he said. 

Akoto-Bamfo is the sculptor behind “Nkyinkyim Installation,” which honors victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama.

His new piece is interactive: people can submit a message, and it’ll be displayed on a computer screen at the top of the monument, like a blank slate.

“I feel that the monument, as it is, is not enough to do justice to the history here,” Akoto-Bamfo said. “There are more people who know about the African American struggle than I, because I’m a Ghanian.” 

A special Wi-Fi network near the statue enables people to post their messages.

“The interactive piece is to give my fellow Black people and, in fact, everybody who cares about racial injustice, to be able to also contribute to this narrative–to be able to contribute to the freedom tradition,” Akoto-Bamfo said.

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Someone send the message “Black Lives Matter” to be displayed on the new interactive monument, which will be on view in Louisville the next several days.

Earlier in the day, while speaking to the press, elected officials and supporters during an event hosted at the heritage center, Akoto-Bamfo said he was overcome with emotion. 

“I’m getting this great reception, this great honor. I’m getting a lot of, ‘Thank you,’ from people who are more articulate than I am. People who … know what it feels like to be Black people in America more than I do,” he said. “I am rather the one who is honored to be given this chance to lend my voice, my creativity and then my passion.”

While the monument was unveiled for the first time in Louisville, it won’t stay in the city long. 

It will be on view at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage through Monday, then move to Jefferson Square Park, the hub for the city’s demonstrations against racism and police brutality. On June 10th, it starts a tour of Midwestern and Southern cities.

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Democratic State Rep. Pamela Stevenson, Democratic State Rep. Pamela Stevenson, sitting to Akoto-Bamfo’s left during a June 2, 2021 event at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, told WFPL it’s an honor to have Louisville be the first stop on the monument’s national tour. “That we’re the first stop is in recognition for everybody that stood up for the last year,” she said..

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Mayor Greg Fischer speaks during the monument unveiling at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage. He say, “Everybody has to be involved,” to achieve racial justice reform in Louisville. Fischer presented a proclamation “on behalf of the city” to artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo.

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Local arts groups performed during the event preceding the actual unveiling, including the West Louisville Boys and Girls Choir, pictured here.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.