Memory Works: Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery

On November 21, 2005, architect Julian Bonder discussed his newly commissioned work for Nantes, France, entitled "Memorial à l'abolition de l'esclavage" (Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery). The work will consist as a riverwalk along the route which once launched frigates bound for West Africa during the slave trade.

The lecture included a short discussion of memory, trauma, and public space, as well as a short presentation of Bonder's work.

"In both ancient and modern times, architecture, landscape, and art have served as mediums through which societies attempted to frame, to preserve, and to learn from the memory of both glorious and catastrophic events," writes Bonder. "By establishing meaningful dialogues with past events and provoking challenging questions and ideas, these Sites of Memory can foster and encourage transformative actions and "memory work."

Bonder spoke broadly about the meanings of commemoration and memorial, and the need he feels as a creative person to make spaces for the witnessing of history and the collective gathering of memory. He used images of shadows in several contexts to emphasize his distance from the role of the survivor and his desire not to assume the pain of the victim, but rather to examine the traces left behind and to imagine the site that, once marked by tragic suffering, will become a vessel for others. Thus his engaged architecture expresses a sense of resolution, or seeks understanding, but steps back from the actual representation of the horror.

Bonder, trained in his native Buenos Aires and later at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, has created two sites related to the Holocaust: a study center at Clark University and a museum in Buenos Aires. He has also submitted designs for which he has been recognized as finalist for a 9/11 Monument in Hoboken, New Jersey (with Krzysztof Wodizcko), and now is engaged in the final steps toward building the new monument in Nantes.

There, Bonder will again build a minimalist space, carved from an underground galley-like space that runs along the waterfront, from which slave ships departed over 150 years ago. The shadow cast is that slavery still continues today. The memorial will both honor the frigates and ships, with human loss noted, in small tiles while glass panes facing the water will be etched with significant quotes about contemporary problems of slavery.

This event was cosponsored by the Departments of Anthropology and Fine Arts.