A brand new art installation in the north end of the Halifax Common is paying tribute to centuries of African Nova Scotian history, with a look forward to prosperous centuries to come.
Concrete Legacy was unveiled at the Armoury Gateway on Thursday by artist Marven Nelligan, who collaborated on the four-year project with the Black Learners and Leaders Advocacy Collective.
The installation contains six panels, which use Egyptian hieroglyphics to encapsulate the journey of Africans who came to North America on slave ships and moved up through the United States to Nova Scotia. The symbols capture the challenges they overcame, the present condition and the bright future ahead for young people today.
The hieroglyphics were a “no-brainer,” Nelligan explained, that both connect the project to Africa and its traditional storytelling.
“The way the story is illustrated is another means of connecting us with the past by using hieroglyphics as the theme,” Nelligan said. “It worked out very well in the sense that we were able to create something that was interactive, that people can try to interpret and also see visually.”
“So not only is it educational, but it’s something that is also fun, like a puzzle that you can engage with,” he added.
The legacy built into the concrete, he added, was inspired by feedback from the community on which elements of the African Canadian experience, particularly in Nova Scotia, should be included. The images include elements of spirituality and faith, and the skills and successes of the community.
Reece Carvery Crawford and King Carvery, eight and nine years old respectively, were some of the first to interpret the hieroglyphics. They used a paper key provided by ceremony organizers and hopped between the panels on the sidewalk, and the grand cedar centrepiece.
“I found that three people with only three sticks as their body means the people and community,” said Carvery Crawford.
“I found this one, it’s a swirl and it means become and change,” added Carvery.
While there’s no permanent legend available on the site at the moment, it’s something both Nelligan and Halifax Regional Municipal Coun. Lindell Smith hope to add in the near future.
“When I see it… I see so much blood and sweat, and I see the legacy through the story,” Smith told Global News. “And you know for some people, when they look at it, they’re not going to truly understand what the symbols mean.”
“Hopefully one day we’ll be able to put something that people can dissect the symbols, but I just see the community represented, just through concrete.”
Concrete Legacy is one of three art installations that will celebrate culturally rich and distinct communities in Halifax. One sister project, Eymu’ti’k, celebrates Mi’kmaq culture and is located at the Creighton Fields Gateway. The other, highlighting LGBTQ2S+ culture, will be built in the months to come at the Citadel Gateway.