Kea Tawana’s Ark of Newark

Posted by: Kevin Coyle

The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in “HERESIES: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics,” Volume 6, No. 2, Issue 22, 1986 – “Art in Unestablished Channels” It is featured here courtesy of Joan Braderman, a founding member of HERESIES.

Kea Tawana’s Ark is a work of art, a monument of unique proportion, situated in the urban landscape of Newark, New Jersey. The structure reflects Ms. Tawana’s unique vision, which draws on a range of myths and symbols from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Known as Kea’s Ark, the ship stands three stories tall in the church parking lot by the Humanity Baptist Church at 235 Bergen Street. Quite a site in the midst of Newark’s Central Ward. Kea Tawana is struggling to create her ark. City officials say it is an eyesore that detracts from the business of urban renewal in a devastated neighborhood. They threaten to have it demolished.

Arising from the ruins of the Central Ward, the ark’s hand-hewn keel and ribs are made of salvaged timbers. Ms. Tawana, a self taught structural engineer, has for the past four years shaped the timbers by hand, drilled and chiseled mortises and tenons so they fit together. Ms. Tawana said that she studied the 19th century ship building and developed her own technology for the ship’s framework. “By marine design the ark is a vessel capable of sailing the high seas. The ark is to be at museum for Newark and the people who built it.”

Ms. Tawana was a welder in the early 70’s, working in the basement of what once was a blacksmith shop in 1680. “The museum would show the truth about Newark and it’s building, about the slavery that existed and how the black iron workers built the city for three hundred years.” Ms. Tawana found chains and other artifacts under the floor in the shop that traced old deeds and records. She said that, “in three years, the galleries on the ark would be open to viewers.” The plans for the ship museum would include a chapel, ward rooms, museums of industry and culture, a historical library containing hundreds of books, (Some dating to the 1700’s), and living quarters for the caretaker.

The symbolic power of the ark’s interior is as monumental as the ark’s exterior imagery. Finished, the framework would be clad in plywood with an additional layer of diagonal tongue-and-groove boarding from the monumental hull. Painted with marine paints, the ark will be a poetic inspiration and center for a new vision, a new neighborhood, not doomed only to enterprises that fit the categories controlled by local ordinances and boundaries.

For an update on Tawana’s Ark in the Los Angeles Times click here

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