Architect Nina Cooke John’s design for an expansive and interactive monument to abolitionist Harriet Tubman has been selected via a national competition to become the newest monument in Newark, New Jersey’s Washington Park. The monument, entitled “Shadow of a Face,” is scheduled to open in the summer of 2022. In addition to honoring Harriet Tubman, the monument will also highlight the role Newark played in the Underground Railroad.
Cooke John’s design, which will include a mosaic portrait and silhouette sculpture honoring Tubman, will be the central element in the park, which will be renamed Tubman Square. “Shadow of a Face” is expected to create the park as a place of pilgrimage for people visiting Newark and the tri-state area, helping them to learn about Tubman’s life. Cooke John also hopes that visitors will “connect with themselves and get one step closer to their own liberation from whatever weight they might be carrying” by finding a place that welcomes them with benches that invite them to sit down and stay awhile.
In addition to the mosaic portrait of Harriet Tubman the monument will present additional tiles that include stories about individual community members and bricks that honor the donors whose contributions made the memorial monument possible. The monument will also feature a map of Tubman’s route through New Jersey and other milestones of her life. The space is meant to be a destination for contemplating, learning, and gathering.
In an interview with Baristanet, Cooke John expressed her excitement at having her design chosen for the new and prominent monument in Newark. She particularly cited her excitement about the planned community workshops that she hopes will serve as a living memorial to the people of the city. The workshops are designed to capture residents’ stories in audio format and in ceramics that they will create and that will then be incorporated into the monument’s ground surface and walls.
Cooke John’s design features interactive elements as well. The Tubman portrait is meant to be explored via touch as the architect wanted to emphasize the fact that Tubman’s life exhibited the duality of being a “larger than life” figure, but also as a woman who experienced everyday challenges in her day just as women of today are challenged. The face on the monument will be textured to encourage viewers to interact with it through touch.
Speaking of the center sculpture that features Tubman’s full silhouette, Cooke John said it was important to claim space for Tubman in a park that already has other sculptures. It was also important to be able to see the Tubman sculpture from afar, Cooke John said, so that it acts like “a North Star” day and night in ways similar to the night star that guided Tubman on her multiple journeys bringing enslaved people to freedom.
Cooke John added that she will be working with Newark historians on the two parts of the monument’s wall, with the outer surface highlighting major points in Tubman’s life, and the inner surface focusing on the history of Newark and New Jersey relating to the underground railroad.