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Barbados to build new museum dedicated to slavery’s impact on the nation

The site of the new Barbados Heritage District with museum, memorial and research centre. Courtesy Adjaye Associates

The Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, has announced the creation of the Barbados Heritage District, including a museum, a memorial and a major global research institute located in Newton Plantation outside of the country’s capital.

Barbados Heritage District will be dedicated to accurately recounting the historic and contemporary impact of slavery on Barbados and on the lives of individuals, cultures, and nations of the Western hemisphere.

It will be located near the Newton Enslaved Burial Ground, where the remains of 570 West African slaves were uncovered through a LIDAR (laser imaging, detection and ranging) study, and the memorial will ‘demarcate a site of tragedy and trauma and transform it into a charged place of commemoration, remembrance, and connection’.

Harrowing Portal

The District’s research institute, the prime minister said, will document Barbados’s pivotal role as the harrowing portal through which millions of enslaved Africans were forced to the Americas.

Last week Barbados officially became a Parliamentary Republic, removing Queen Elizabeth II its head of state, and a statement said the Barbados Heritage District will serve as a cornerstone and catalyst for the ongoing development of Barbados’s independent identity, culture, and place on the world stage.

“Barbados is authentically enshrining our history and preserving the past as we reimagine our world and continue to contribute to global humanity,” the Prime Minister said. “It is a moral imperative but equally an economic necessity.”

Designed by Sir David Adjaye

Ghanaian-British Architect, Sir David Adjaye has been commissioned to design the Barbados Heritage District. He also designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC and is currently working on the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, Nigeria, a new dedicated space for objects of Benin’s past including the most comprehensive collection of the Benin Bronzes.

Sir David said the Barbados Heritage District project was at the heart of what had inspired him to become an architect: “Drawing upon the technique and philosophy of traditional African tombs, prayer sites and pyramids, the memorial is conceived as a space that contemporaneously honours the dead, edifies the living, and manifests a new diasporic future for Black civilization that is both of the African continent and distinct from it.”

The first phase of the project will be the Newton Enslaved Burial Ground Memorial, a monument to the nation’s enslaved ancestors that will serve as a place of remembrance, honouring those individuals impacted by the effects of forced migration.

Sacred field

The sacred field will be punctuated by 570 individual timber beams each capped with circular brass plates oriented towards the sun to catch the Barbadian light and government said: “the memorial will provide the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual framework for the scholarly research and public programs that the future centre will generate”.

They said on completion, the complex will be the first research institute and resource centre of global stature based in the Caribbean dedicated to exploring the history and enduring impact of slavery and forced migration on the world.

The groundbreaking is set for 30 November 2022, on the first anniversary of Barbados’s status as a Parliamentary Republic. The development of the Barbados Heritage District will support significant job growth in new industries, technologies, and construction sectors.

The District is being developed in partnership with the Prime Minister’s Office, the Barbados Archives Department, and the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, who are working in collaboration with a team of Barbadian scholars, spearheaded by Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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