Memorial to Enslaved People
The creation of this Memorial was proposed to the Participatory Budget of Lisbon, Portugal in 2017 by Djass - Association of Afrodescendants and was one of the winning projects of this initiative of the local City Council.
The main purpose of this Memorial is to pay tribute to the millions of African people who were enslaved by Portugal throughout its history, namely between the 15th and 19th centuries. It is a just and long-overdue tribute to all who have fallen victim to slavery and transatlantic trade.
In addition to this purpose, the memorial also aims to:
• Contribute to the recognition of the central role that Portugal, and in particular the city of Lisbon, played in the slavery and trafficking of enslaved people throughout history;
• Celebrate the resistance of Africans against the oppression of slavery;
• Commemorate the centuries-old Black and African presence in Portugal and its contribution to the Portuguese economy, culture and society;
• Highlight the historical continuities that link slavery to subsequent forms of oppression and discrimination which constitute its legacies, from forced labor that followed its abolition to contemporary racism;
• Contribute to a more rigorous and comprehensive knowledge of the history of Portugal, serving as an instrument of pedagogy for present and future generations.
The Memorial will be placed at Largo José Saramago (known as Campo das Cebolas), in the historic center of Lisbon, in an area with a strong historical connection to slavery. It is also at this location that, in a second phase, an information center will be set up, to be installed in an adjacent building, which will include a permanent exhibition on the memorial, slavery and related subjects, as well as a venue for temporary events.
The process of defining the Memorial's concept and identifying the artists to invite was carried out with the support of an advisory group composed of Black and anti-racist activists and academic researchers.
The artwork will use a contemporary, conceptual, symbolic artistic language, capable of ensuring a significant urban presence and representing Slavery in a broad way, including the dimensions of memory, resistance and historical legacies and continuities, establishing the link between past and present. It should have an interactive and participatory nature, which calls for meeting, ritual, spirituality, mourning, but also celebration, notably of African resistance and cultural heritage. It must also be assumed as an instrument of education and critical reflection on the past, the present and the future.
Five artists were invited to submit a project, all of them African or of African descent artists, from Portuguese-speaking countries and whose artistic profile fits the conceptual and contemporary nature of the project and whose work, in whole or in part, demonstrates a reflection on issues related to slavery, colonialism and racism, in line with the objectives intended with the creation of the Memorial.
Of the five artists invited, three submitted a proposal: Grada Kilomba, Jaime Lauriano and Kiluanji Kia Henda.
The winning project was chosen by vote held in various public sessions that took place between December 2019 and February 2020 in locations in the Lisbon region with a strong presence of African people and people of African descent.
Kiluanji Kia Henda's project - "Plantation - Prosperity and Nightmare" - was the most voted and thus chosen to represent the Memorial.
The Memorial is expected to be inaugurated in the second half of 2020.
KILUANJI KIA HENDA
Kiluanji Kia Henda (Luanda, 1979) lives and works between Luanda (Angola) and Lisbon (Portugal).
“Plantation – Prosperity and Nightmare” is intended to address the memory of slavery as the presence of an absence, as we do not believe it is possible to directly and realistically represent such transnational trauma.
We then turn to the raw material, sugar cane, the white gold that was at the origin of the compulsory slave trade.
The project is a representation of a sugar cane plantation consisting of 540 feet of black aluminum sugar cane, each 3 meters high and 8 centimeters in diameter. Between the cane feet there are regular breaks, inviting for walking and reflection. An experience is presented between the sacred, the contemplative, and the everyday banal. As if sugarcane became the image of urban repetition itself. Until a small amphitheater appears in the middle of the plantation, as a meeting point. Maybe a quilombo of runaway slaves. Maybe just a void, a gap of intervals, where something new can come up.
This is expected to be a socializing point for the most varied cultural events, from music to small street shows, from academic dialogues to theatrical readings. The historical link between monoculture and slavery is narrated, in a monument that deals with the relationship between excess wealth and the inhuman exploitation of life. The project aims to build a place of memory, open to reflection. It is sought that in the center of the anguish the avenues of encounter are open, pointing to new creations and new possibilities for coexistence.
Grada Kilomba (b. 1968, Lisbon, Portugal) is an interdisciplinary artist and writer born in Lisbon and living in Berlin.
“The Boat” stretches across the memorial platform, by the Tagus river, like a garden, forming a simple composition of benches that closely mimics a “ship with enslaved people.”
A boat in the “Portuguese” imagination is easily associated with maritime glory and expansion; a narrative inscribed in the various public monuments by the city river which romanticizes the colonial historical past and erases one of the longest and most horrendous chapters of humanity – Slavery.
In direct opposition, this piece thoroughly reveals the hold of these boats. The concrete benches create a silhouette that exposes not only the history, but the content of these boats, the bodies. The distance between the 131 concrete benches creates “entrances” and endless paths, almost a maze, inviting the public not only to contemplate “the boat” from the outside, but also to enter it and walk inside it – as if it were a garden of contemplation and memory. The rectangular and uniform shape of the benches reveals them, not only as seats, in which the public is invited to sit to look, think, contemplate, pray, worship and respect; but it also reveals them as an allusion to metaphorical tombs, which give “habitat” to a story of dehumanization, and give a place of rest and recognition to thousands of enslaved people.
To distinguish the simple benches from metaphorical tombs, the latter will be covered with poems written on its surface, such as: “There is nothing sweeter than a deep truth.” The poems interact directly with the public, who reads them and bows before them. This choreography of contemplation is proper to a memorial, as a space of rituals and ceremonies to a history that has to be remembered and that cannot be forgotten. A story that has to be told and buried with dignity, for only in this way can memory be produced.
Jaime Lauriano (São Paulo, 1985) lives and works between Porto (Portugal) and São Paulo (Brazil).
Designed as a space to represent Slavery in a broad way, this project to build the Memorial to Enslaved People aims to establish a link between past and present, inviting the public to reflect on colonial violence and its continuity in the current days. Designed as a piece of significant urban presence, the Memorial will at the same time be a place of reverence and mourning; a meeting arena; a spiritual and ritual space.
The memorial design is based on two forms: the triangle and the circle. Taken from iconographic research on religious symbols and struggle, the forms aim to celebrate the history of resistance of the enslaved people and to inspire the new struggles of communities of African descent around the world. Another important element of the Memorial is the speech, which will be translated by writing words – on the inner walls of the Memorial – gathered in rounds of conversation with African descent communities in Portugal.
Therefore, this project stands beside other initiatives that are rethinking the colonial past not only in the light of violence. For if in the tombs people were transported to work in enslavement, they were also transported philosophies, religions and experiences that were not restricted to the borders delineated by the European colonizers. News from Haiti has reached the Americas and examples of rebels have generated uprisings in several countries. In the 21st century, the anti-racist struggles and movements are still connected, with the Memorial could not be different.