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Ma’afa | Bristol Slavery Museum

Part 2 Project 2012
Hannah Ransom
University of the West of England, UK
The Ma’afa, (translating as ‘African Holocaust’, or Holocaust of Enslavement) gives testament to the tragedy experienced by millions of people, documenting the triangular route of trade and brutality that connected Europe to Africa and the Americas in the C17th-19th.

The Ma’afa museum and resource archive memorializes the slave trade in the centre of a city that once formed an integral part of that period of history. Many of the fortunes of Bristol were built on slavery; directly (sending ships to Africa) or indirectly (importing sugar and other products of slave labour). This residual memory of the city’s uncomfortable past is made manifest through a building that is deeply embedded into its landscape, encircling a ruined church close to the line of the former city wall. The scheme draws inspiration from its harbour-side location in its richness and multiplicity of memory, narrative, occupancy and history. The building seeks to provide a place for the city’s roots to be unveiled, calling for remembrance beyond contrition.

The building, which forms a new gateway to the city’s Castle Park, is composed of a series of principal elements: A submerged sequence of labyrinth-like chambers which play with ideas of body/space relationships, spatial volumes and sightlines; a larger memorial space which deploys light, shade and texture referencing the countless numbers of people subjected to slave trafficking; and a more prosaic/functional zone for contemporary exhibitions and artistic interpretation. An independent education and community resource facility is also included.

Much of the building is located beneath ground level, where natural light is highly controlled resulting in a scape of sudden illumination and deep shade. Above ground, the building is characterised by large, asymmetrical concrete planes which signal the form of the spaces beneath, acting as a monumental form to the fracture and complexity of the slave trade itself.

The expression of solidity and permeability throughout emphasizes the journey of descent and ascent that document the contrasts of a world of wealth, pride and freedom, and its antithesis of oppression, confinement and servitude. These oppositions are also reflected in the buildings construction, materiality and spatial configuration.

Hannah Ransom


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