Set in Emotion

Art installation honours African-Nova Scotian community.

Written by Kylie Nicolajsen

Posted May 11, 2021

The striking glyphs and colourful pictograms tell stories as enduring as the concrete in which they’re etched.

The expanse of symbols — located near the Cogswell Gate leading to the northern portion of the Halifax Common — is designed to give you pause. Does an image of a bright yellow bulldozer evoke the destruction of the historic Black community of Africville, Nova Scotia, in the 1960s? Do pictures of a Black man and a white man entering separate doors symbolize segregation? Deciphering these depictions of African-Nova Scotian strength in the face of adversity is meant to be a challenge.

While a legend that describes the general meaning of each of the glyphs will be installed at the site this summer, the artistic team behind the Concrete Legacy project has left the literal translations deliberately ambiguous to encourage viewers to dig more deeply into the Black history on display.

The Halifax Common is a ninety-five-hectare greenspace created in 1763 by the Crown for the “common” use of the citizens of Halifax. The Concrete Legacy project began in 2015 as part of a larger civic redesign of an African-Nova Scotian hub in the nearby Gottingen Street neighbourhood — the centre of Halifax’s Black community.

Long-time resident and artistic lead Marven Nelligan worked with community-engagement consultant LaMeia Reddick and community developer Kate Moon — in consultation with the local Black community — to create the design that was officially unveiled in 2019. “Hope and endurance is the message of this piece. It was designed to be an inspiration to anyone who feels they don’t have a voice,” Nelligan said.

Concrete Legacy is one of three art installations created or planned for plazas in the Halifax Common and that celebrate the city’s diverse communities. Eymu’ti’k (We Are Here), by artist Teresa Marshall, celebrates Mi’kmaq history and culture, while a new project being developed by artist Margot Durling will honour the LGBTQ+ community.

This project was shortlisted in 2020 for the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming. For more information on the Governor General’s History Awards go to CanadasHistory.ca/Awards.

This article originally appeared in the June-July 2021 issue of Canada’s History.

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