Story Publication logo January 28, 2022

The Lost Ancestors

Some of sculptures

Sculptor Kwame Akoto-Bamfo is at the forefront of a generation of young African artists reclaiming...

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Multiple Authors

Kwame Akoto-Bamfo is a young Ghanaian sculptor driven by a calling: to sculpt the likenesses of 11,111 enslaved Africans. He is consumed by the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on Africans today who still mourn the loss of their ancestors. 

Although 12.5 million Africans were wrenched from their homes and families over this 400-year period, he says the evidence of the slave trade in Africa “is being washed away.” Akoto-Bamfo is devoting his life to honoring their lives of his ancestors through his art, memorializing them not just as slaves, but as people with humanity and individuality.

Shot in Ghana and Alabama, the film follows Akoto-Bamfo as he reckons with this legacy. He interviews elders still traumatized by the kidnapping and disappearance of their ancestors. He reprises the trans-Atlantic migration in his own way, tracing the trails of the slaves with his sculptures. 

He created a year-long installation of 1,200 concrete heads of enslaved men, women and children — frozen at the precise moment of capture — in the dungeon of Cape Coast Castle on Ghana’s coastline, where trafficked slaves were held under horrific conditions before being shipped overseas as Black cargo. Crossing the ocean, he installs more heads and full body sculptures at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.  These are now part of the permanent collection of the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial and its Legacy Museum.

“I’m trying to tackle the legacy of slavery head on,” he says. “We have to deal with it before we can move on.”

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