Kea Tawana's Ark

Status

Non Extant

Address

263 Bergen St , Newark, New Jersey, 07103, us

Built

begun late 1960s

About the Artist/Site

Kea Tawana began collecting the materials for her giant ship in the late 1960s, not long after Newark's Central Ward was torn apart by social unrest. In the ensuing twenty years, Tawana, working alone and using only a cart and hand tools, gathered timbers, slate, stained glass, and flooring from the city's abandoned buildings, and by the early 1980s she had shaped her selections into a three-story high, eight-foot long escape vessel.

“There's no place safe on land,” Tawana told reporters when they asked whether the Ark, which had found temporary safe haven on the parking lot of the Humanity Baptist Church, was biblically inspired. Tawana said she had been born in Japan, the daughter of an American civil engineer and his Japanese wife; she had lost them both in cities under siege: her mother had died during wartime bombing and her father was shot in an internment camp near San Diego. In adulthood, Tawana had been burned out of many apartments in New York City and Newark. She had even been forced to move her massive ship, after a development company bought the land adjacent to the church lot and demanded the Ark's removal. The Humanity Baptist's African American congregation had welcomed Tawana and her Ark to their property, and she served as church caretaker.

But the City of Newark, intent upon erasing the neglect that had made the Ark's raw materials readily available, insisted in 1987 that Tawana's ship was unsafe and demanded its demolition. Extensive press coverage, praise from architects and art historians, and letters from local school children did not alter the City's position. After it threatened to punish Humanity Baptist Church for failing to evict the builder and her creation, Tawana signed a consent agreement to relocate the Ark or to dismantle it if a new location could not be found.

Unable to secure a new site, Tawana destroyed the Ark in the summer of 1988, rather than face the humiliation of City destruction.

~Holly Metz

Materials

timbers, slate, stained glass, wood

SPACES Archives Holdings

1 folder: clippings, correspondence, images

Related Documents

Map & Site Information

263 Bergen St
Newark, New Jersey, 07103 us
Latitude/Longitude: 40.7362819 / -74.1945217

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