Sankofa in New York, by Jerome Haferd Studio
Anna Dave Sankofa in New York, by Jerome Haferd Studio

Sankofa is the first of multiple interactive installations in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park to serve as centerpiece nodes of the Mellon Foundation–funded Culture, Creativity, and Care initiative. The project is being led by Harlem Grown, a local food justice nonprofit. Designed by Jerome Haferd Studio, a Harlem-based, Black-led public art and architecture practice, the project is on view for the summers of 2023 and 2024. The word “Sankofa” derives from the Akan African folklore, symbolizing remembrance of things forgotten and the importance of learning from the past to build our future. The installation is simultaneously Afro-futuristic and ancestral.

The design concept, inspired by working in collaboration with members of the Park Alliance and other community groups, draws upon intersectional cultures including African, Afro-Caribbean, and Indigenous craft traditions, as well as the everyday histories and contemporary life of the park. The 32-foot, circular steel-frame structure incorporates a gathering space below a striking mesh-fabric canopy that features a complex printed design depicting archival images and digitally composed layers evoking what Haferd and team describe as “a new mythology” of Marcus Garvey Park, as well as other Harlem-inspired motifs.

Haferd conceived of the piece as a community engagement device itself—a process that will unfold, evolve, and showcase Harlem-focused programming. Visitors pass underneath to discover a ring of mounted artwork, a rotating exhibit that will feature the work of numerous local artists over the course of the summer. Despite its bespoke appearance, the installation is based on a modular system and uses sturdy, reusable materials including bolted steel frame and solid wooden seating that can be reconfigured for a number of future uses or sites. The project involves planning and collaboration across groups and trades.

This article first appeared in the October 2023 issue of ARCHITECT, which was guest edited and designed by Dark Matter U.