World-renowned British-Ghanaian architect of Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture fame, and Designer of the Newton Memorial, Sir David Adjaye, has told Barbadians that their stories, structures and monuments need to be acknowledged worldwide.
Speaking at a press conference today, Sir David joined Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley and other speakers to discuss plans for the Reclaiming Our Atlantic Destiny (ROAD) Project and the Newton Burial Ground in Christ Church.
As he emphasised why these stories of people of the African diaspora needed to emerge in the 21st Century, he said: “We need to emerge and memorials are a profound way of creating a moral compass for future generations to understand who they are as human beings. We are ritual creatures. We think we’re not, but we are ritual creatures, and we need sites to celebrate and commemorate our rituals as human beings.”
Sir David is best known for his magnificent work in the African American Museum in Washington, DC, which was designed by him and his firm, and for other work being undertaken in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and America.
While pointing out that the historical link of humankind extended to the Rift Valley, right across the great civilizations of West Africa and those of East Africa and the Mediterranean, he said it spoke also to the “deep need to acknowledge who you are and who you want to say you were to your future generations and to the generations there”.
The renowned architect opined that the Newton Memorial was to him about honouring the extraordinary moment that saw the site never being ploughed, never becoming agricultural, but “staying as a burial ground” because of a phenomenon of geology and geography in that area.
“It’s a gift to us and one that I’m so proud that Barbados is/has been a steward of – looking after this and now will use this to honour the ancestors that were buried there,’ he declared.
He noted that 570 ancestors were buried at the Newton site and said this was the starting point of the project, which visualises these ancestors as totems.
“Totems that are no longer invisible but totems that will become visible. Totems that are connected to the cosmos because they come/we all come from this soup of a universe that we live in and there are discs of light. If you look at our histories, our ancestors always understood that we connect to the cosmos, and we belong to the land. And this monument is about honouring that.
“The totems connect us to the cosmos and connect us to our desires and futures. And the circle is made from the land. And we searched for the land that connects to the motherland, and Barbados has it in a place that you call Scotland [District]. It’s a beautiful place; this extraordinary laterite red iron oxide earth, which is all over; the sort of beginnings, the cradle of where you know humankind has created civilisations and came from,” Sir David explained.
Alluding to the memorial, he expressed the belief that it would be a ‘circle of commemoration” and “a place of ritual” to honour our ancestors.
He also expressed hope that it would become a place where Barbados could see the connections to all the different parts of the world. And he stressed: “We will also find this space as a space to remember and to ritualise and to create as a time capsule to the ambitions of this new republic and its future.”