Last Friday Mayor Baraka made the news public when he announced that artist Nina Cooke John had been selected by the 14-member Harriet Tubman Monument Selection Committee to create a design to honor the heroic abolitionist. Nina Cooke John will work with Newark-based artist Adebunmi Gbadebo, who will serve as an apprentice to assist with research and community engagement throughout the project.

The monument will be installed during the summer of 2022 in Tubman Square (formerly Washington Park), an occasion the Museum will be sure to celebrate!

Nina Cooke John and Adebunmi Gbadebo

Rendering of future Harriet Tubman Monument

As a member of the commission, I can attest that the entire process was a joy to be part of and one of true creative collaboration. Led by Newark’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Director fayemi shakur, historians, educators, curators, artists, and community organizers held an open call last winter to start the project. From that step, five artists were commissioned to produce conceptual designs for a monument. We were also fortunate to have pro bono help from the Cultural Assets Management team at Bloomberg Associates, who provided support for both the community feedback and the artist selection processes.

The result is Nina Cooke John’s magnificent Shadow of a Face. With Ms. Cooke John’s innovative design, this monument provides a permanent way for visitors to connect directly with the triumph of Harriet Tubman. Symbolizing hope and optimism, the striking installation will include Tubman’s larger-than-life face reflected in a mosaic of considerably sized ceramic pieces placed at eye level. The circular design also serves as an inspirational and informational guide, with text throughout that highlights important dates in Tubman’s life along with the names of safe houses throughout New Jersey.

As part of Newark’s larger strategy to develop a world-class public art program, Ms. Cooke John brings a dynamic place-making perspective to the project with her 20-year practice as a designer/architect. Additional high-impact projects by Ms. Cooke John are currently being conceived for the Jamaican Parliament and New York City’s Stryker Park.

Shadow of a Face excited everyone involved with its intent to be a communal experience. During the press event last week, Ms. Cooke John noted, “My design creates a welcoming space for people to connect with Tubman as well as interact and reflect on their own liberation from whatever weight they might be carrying. This is a monument for the community and by the community.” She also shared that this work is part of her plan for the renamed park to be “a place of pilgrimage” for people of Newark and beyond to learn more about Harriet Tubman’s contributions.

With my own vision to make The Newark Museum of Art the destination museum throughout the region and country, I eagerly await this vision becoming a reality.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Nina and Harriet!

Linda C. Harrison
Director and CEO
The Newark Museum of Art