Monday, February 7, 2022

"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 shame
Almost unspeakable
Unforgettably enshrined
upon these hallowed grounds
That paint
A clear
and searing picture
Of man's inhumanity
to the Black body

Of hidden figures
by shackles
And by chains
by nooses
and by hate
By 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
And Black History whitewashed
As if someone other than us
Picked 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 brutality
for all the world to see
Faces 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 now
Be erased
Or denied
Or rewritten
Or else smoothed over
by White Lies

Thou shalt not
silence these cries!

For Here
Upon these hallowed grounds
I hear the sound
Of children crying
Then suddenly expiring
Then 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 Folk
Heaving their last breath
Within this heartless
Designed 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 Passage
But with spirits lifted
Toward the west
Toward a place
beyond the sun
Toward somewhere beyond death

And there are tears here
On these sacred grounds
Rivers 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 Creator
In this place
Where 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 ages
Sealed eternally by blood 
And a sculptor’s mud 
instead of pages 
In these, my ancestor’s faces.