Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery Nantes France - This project was commissioned by the City of Nantes and former French Prime Minister and long time Nantes’ Maire Jean-Marc Ayrault, after an invited competition. Its construction begun in March 2010, and opened to the public in March 2012, and It has received to date more than 600.000 visitors, who spend long time visiting, reading, walking, thinking, discussing . . . POLITICAL WILL - Slavery is part of our history. Nantes was the largest French slave port in the 18th century. A part of the city’s wealth was therefore amassed via this odious traffic, which we recognize today as a crime against humanity. For a long time, Nantes averted its eyes from this aspect of the past, until the 1990s when the decision was taken to face up to it. We exhumed, explored, analyzed, understood
and took responsibility. This allowed us to free our conscience. Les Anneaux de la Mémoire exhibition in 1992 symbolized the dawn of this collective awareness. Taking responsibility for such a past, without feelings of repentance, allows us to carry on our struggles with our eyes wide open. The Memorial demonstrates this strong political will. It is not another act of contrition, but a genuine call to us all to remember past struggles in order to project ourselves into the future, fighting against all modern forms of slavery and denial of human rights in order to build a more united world. By building the memorial on the banks of the Loire, in the heart of the city, at the point from which the slave-trading expeditions departed, and by giving it a monumental artistic form linked to the Palais de Justice by the Victor-Schœlche
r pedestrian bridge, we recall the fact that the struggle for freedom and dignity for all human beings is a fundamental cause inextricably linked to our vision of society. The Memorial is a new page in understanding our history and demonstrating the future, which we hope to build together. From the rooms dedicated to the slave trade in the Dukes of Brittany’s Castle, through Le Bouffay, Feydeau Island and Quai de la Fosse, it adopts its complete significance within a memory trail rooted in the city’s historic reality. This Memorial, whose size makes it unique in Europe, is a message from the people of Nantes, the metropolis, the département and the region to all people, all over the world, who share this history and these struggles and fights. My wish is for it to become a place where younger generations can learn and develop new awareness about past, present and future. The Memorial will then have fulfilled its promises: it will be a living site, a place where people unite and commit collectively to upholding the memory of past struggles and continuing our fight for the recognition and promotion of human rights. Embedded in the ground of the city (of every city) there are stories to be uncovered and unearthed. Nantes is a city that has decided to confront its own difficult past, as the premier slave trading port in France, with about 45 % of all 4000 French Slave Trading Expeditions. Located along the Loire riverfront in in the center of the city of Nantes, this memorial is a metaphorical and emotional evocation of the struggle for the abolition of slavery, above all historic, but which still continues into the present. As a Working Memorial, this project proposes a physical transformation and symbolic reinforcement of 350 meters of the coast of the Loire along Quai de la Fosse. It includes the adaptation of a preexisting underground residual space, product of the construction of the Loire embankments and port during the XVIII, XIX, and XX Centuries. It provides space and means for remembering and thinking about slavery and the slave trade; commemorating resistance and the abolitionist struggle; celebrating the historic act of abolition; and for bringing the visitor closer to the continuing struggle against present-day forms of slavery. This project transforms the Site, the old port areas, used as Parking, into a significant Public Space and Commemorative Ground. The project is centered on adapting a sub-surface preexisting space (residue of construction of the ports and embankments walls of the Loire in 18th, 19th, 20th Centuries) into a ‘Passage’, an Underground Memorial Space. The sub- surface space, ‘found’ in archival documentation, along and often below the level of the water, is the heart of the memorial. The transformation of this ‘found space’ into public space required very complex engineering in order to construct a protective ‘cuvelage’ (a dam under the old structures) due to tides of Loire (more than 4 meters daily). Between Pont Anne de Bretagne and Passarelle Victor Schoelcher, 2000 glass inserts, evoking the magnitude of the slave trade and the memory of slave-vessels, were set into the Commemorative Ground. From the public esplanade, visitors may access the “Passage”, on either end, to find themselves in a long space enclosed by the pre-existing 19th Century embankment wall and the 20th Century embankment concrete structures. The monument celebrates the great rupture of abolition with the thrust of a great slanted Glass plate, which emerges to the city as spade that cuts the soil. On this Glass Wall selected texts from different continents touched by slavery and forms of human trafficking and from periods spanning 5 centuries of struggle (XVII Century to XXI Century) can be found. These include texts by Toussaint L’Ouverture, Ouidah Equiano, Martin Luther King, Derek Wolcott, Victor Schoelcher, Frederick Douglass, Aime Cesaire, and others. The memorial includes an information area where visitors orient themselves about historical facts about slavery and the transatlantic trade. The dimensions of present-day struggles against all forms of slavery or the slave trade are exposed, within a space acting like a ‘situation room’, facing the Palais de Justice (Jean Nouvel). As part of a multilayered urban approach to Memory and the City, a new urban parcours in Nantes, which includes the Chateau (museum), a public promendade (Nantes and Slavery), and the Memorial, has been conceived. Beyond its symbolic purpose, the memorial will be used as a space for testimonies and as a special meeting site during the bi-annual human-rights forum to be held in Nantes. This would thus confirm the specificity of this site as a responsive site of memory and of struggle. Signaling the contemporary work of liberation that courageously goes on will serve to remind us that the work of abolition that culminated in 1848 was not in vain, and that perhaps its work will one day hopefully be no longer necessary. By shedding light over difficult pasts and presents, both in Nantes and the world, and as an ethico-political, urban, artistic, landscape and architectural project, this new public space, and urban landscape, hopes to become an agent and catalyst for transformative action, human rights activism, and civic engagement. Wodiczko + Bonder is an interdisciplinary artistic and design partnership established in 2003 and based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Wodiczko + Bonder focuses on art and design projects that engage public space and raise the issues of social memory, survival, and struggle and emancipation related to urban and domestic violence, war and post war trauma, immigration and global displacement, the Holocaust and Genocides, Desaparecidos, the US Civil War, Historical and Present-Day Slavery, and September 11. Wodiczko + Bonder consider that the Urban Public Space is among the most potent and durable stage and equipment for cultural communication and expression. The practice is based on a commitment to the advancement of democratic potential, vitality and usefulness of such space through the creation of new transformative and communicative art and design. In addition to the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in Nantes, other projects and proposals by Wodiczko + Bonder include: Hoboken September 11 Memorial; Flight 587 Memorial, Queens; WTC Memorial Competition; Babi Yar Memorial Park and Mizel Museum in Denver, Colorado; September 11 Memory Place, Denver, Colorado; National Holocaust Monument, Ottawa, Canada. Krzysztof Wodiczko is best known for his public projections that give life to monuments and public buildings using images of expressive physical movement, paired with the voices of marginalized citizens: the homeless, immigrants, survivors of domestic violence, war veterans. He has realized more than ninety such public projections in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, Germany, Holland, Northern Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States. Simultaneously, he has been designing and implementing a series of nomadic instruments and vehicles with homeless, immigrant, and war veteran operators for their survival and communication. Wodiczko was awarded the Hiroshima Art Prize in 1998 for his contribution as an international artist to world peace, and has represented Canada and Poland in the Venice Biennale. He is Professor of Art, Design, and the Public Domain at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He lives and works in New York, Boston, and Warsaw. Julian Bonder is an architect born in New York and raised in Argentina. Mr. Bonder has devoted an important part of his design work and research to investigating the relationships between Architecture and Memory. He is an active contributor to contemporary national and international discourses on memory, public space, public art, cultural trauma and monument design, often working outside the traditional boundaries of architecture. His work in this field includes conceptual projects and built work worldwide, as well as writings. He is recipient of a number of Faculty Design Awards from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture; awards from Sociedad Central de Arquitectos (Buenos Aires); Housing Honor Award, Young Architects Award and Small Firm Award both from Boston Society of Architects. He is Professor of Architecture at Roger Williams University, and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.