“Upon Their Faces” – An Exhibit, A Lesson in History to Never Forget

These are among the stunning images at the Nkyinkyim Museum in Ghana.

Written after visiting the Nkyinkyim installation by Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo. The exhibit, which has more than 1,700 cement effigies in a field, seeks to create a total of 11,111, in remembrance and honor of Africans who were enslaved. By John W. Fountain
Within these ancestral faces

Of horror

Of shock

Of anguish

And of pain

Lie history’s shameUnforgivableAlmost unspeakableUnforgettably enshrined

upon these hallowed grounds

That paint

A clear

and searing picture

Of man’s in


to the Black body
Of hidden figuresDisfiguredby shacklesAnd by chains

by nooses

and by hateBy centuries of that bloody

and inconceivable fate

called Slavery:

A “Peculiar Institution” In which the newborn of the enslaved

could not be

born free..

And for centuries

There existed

this great tragedy

Called, “The Maafa”The memory of which some would now choose to have

forgotten And Black History whitewashed

As if someone other than usPicked their cotton

As if we did not dangle like strange fruit

From poplar trees

Or face Massa’s whip

And myriad cruelties

Created by his limitless, hateful imaginations
But here, rotten hate

And brutalityGlarefor all the world to seeFaces sculpted

In moist African clay

By inspired hands

Filled with grace

To tell the tale

Of hate

almost beyond Imagination

Of suffering

And the manifestation

Of abomination

Of degradation

That must not nowOR EVERBe erased

Or deniedUntoldOr rewritten

Or else smoothed over

by White Lies
Thou shalt not

silence these cries!
For HereUpon these hallowed grounds

I hear the sound

Of children cryingRisingThen suddenly expiringThen again rising

And rising

And rising
I hear

The jagged piercing wail

Of my ancestors dying

Of pregnant women

Nearing birth

And also death

The crashing

Of hearts capsizing
The travail

Of the Souls of Black FolkHeaving their last breath

Within this heartlessCatastropheDesigned by human hands

And bigotry

By sin-sick hate

And raging evil inhumanity

I hear the desperation

Of a people

Caught inexplicably

Between heaven

And hell-on-earth
I see their bronze faces

Set toward sunset

and the Middle PassageBut with spirits lifted

Toward the west

Toward a place

beyond the sun

Toward somewhere beyond death
And there are tears hereOn these sacred groundsRivers of tears

Beneath these clouds

Figures depicted with masks over their eyes symbolizes slaves who were lynched.

Tears to be found flowing from the eyes of visitors

As they look upon this sacred representation upon this holy installation of their ancestors who found no mercy from their captors only grace from their CreatorIn this placeWhere ancestor and descendant

Come face to face

With his-story

And her story and the bittersweet reality

That unless we remember the past

We are bound inevitably to repeat it.
It is the plain truth etched upon these faces.

In this most sacred of places

That bears a story for the agesSealed eternally by blood And a sculptor’s mud instead of pages In these, my ancestor’s faces.

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