Secretary-General Unveils ‘The Ark of Return’ as Winning Design for Permanent Memorial to Victims of Slavery, Transatlantic Slave Trade

23 September 2013

Secretary-General Unveils ‘The Ark of Return’ as Winning Design for Permanent Memorial to Victims of Slavery, Transatlantic Slave Trade

23 September 2013
Press Release
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Unveils ‘The Ark of Return’ as Winning Design for Permanent

Memorial to Victims of Slavery, Transatlantic Slave Trade

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon unveiled the winning design for the Permanent Memorial in Honour of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade during a special ceremony at New York Headquarters today.

“The Ark of Return” was designed by Manhattan-based Haitian-American architect Rodney Leon, who was also the designer and architect of the African Burial Ground National Monument in lower Manhattan.  The Panel of Judges gave two other commendations.  Nicolas Grun and Pierre Laurent are the second-place winners for “Mémorial d’Ebène”, and two designs were named in third place:  “Middle Passage” by Sofia Castelo and“The Wounded Earth” by Carlo Gandolfi, Paola Passeri, Alessandra Ripa and Monica Sachetti.

“The memorial will serve as a reminder of the bravery of those slaves, abolitionists and unsung heroes who managed to rise up against an oppressive system, fight for their freedom and end the practice,” Secretary-General Ban said at the ceremony, attended by dignitaries and senior officials.

Other speakers included:  John W. Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), President of the sixty-eighth session of the General Assembly; Irina Bokova, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); and Courtenay Rattray, Chairman of the Permanent Memorial Committee.  The event can be viewed via the UN Webcast archives at

When presenting his project, Mr.  Leon explained:  “‘The Ark of Return’ is a symbolic spiritual space and object where one can interact and pass through for acknowledgement, contemplation, meditation, reflection, healing, education and transformation.”

At the start of the competition, 310 entries were originally submitted by candidates from 83 countries; of those, 16 were selected for submission to a committee of five international judges from Jamaica, Haiti/Canada, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.  After a further selection, seven finalists were invited to present their projects to the International Jury at New York Headquarters in August.

Until that stage, it was a blind competition.  The judges arrived at a unanimous decision after presentations by each of the finalists — nationals of China/United Kingdom, Colombia/France, Finland, France, Italy, Portugal and the United States.  This video ( produced by the Department of Pubic Information’s News and Media Division features each of the finalists and their designs.  The judges also spoke to the Department about the competition, and the interview can be viewed at

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica,other Heads of Government, Foreign Ministers, as well as film director Lee Daniels, attended today’s unveiling.

For more than 400 years, at least 15 million men, women and children were victims of the tragic transatlantic slave trade, one of the darkest chapters in human history.  The Permanent Memorial will honour and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system, and also increase awareness of the dangers of racism and prejudice today.

Today’s announcement is a culmination of a long process.  UNESCO and the Department of Public Information’s Remember Slavery Programme have supported the Permanent Memorial Committee in their work during the competition process.  Member States from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African Union have played a primary role in the Permanent Memorial initiative.

Additional information can be obtained from Nathalie Leroy, Education Outreach Section, Department of Public Information, at e-mail:; and Kurt Davis, Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the United Nations, at e-mail:

The progress of construction on the Memorial, expected to be completed in the autumn of 2014, can be followed via @RememberSlavery on Twitter and  Updates will also be posted from the Permanent Memorial Committee via their Facebook page.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.