Kea Tawana's ArkKea Tawana (1935 - 2016)


Non Extant


263 Bergen St, Newark, 07103, United States


1960s to 1988

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, eighty-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


timbers, slate, stained glass, wood

SPACES Archives Holdings

1 folder: clippings, correspondence, images

Related Documents


Kea's Ark, a documentary

"Kea's Ark" is a production of PCK Media in cooperation with Stockton University. Underwriting was provided by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, and the New Jersey Historical Commission. Kea Tawana’s work is presented in cooperation with Gallery Aferro and The Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University-Newark. Produced, directed, and written by Susan Wallner. Narrated by Brandon Webster.


Kea's Ark at Gallery Aferro

“It was a sign of hope, like Noah’s Ark.” Community remembrances like this added to a 2016 exhibit at Gallery Aferro exploring work by Kea Tawana, the artist who built an imposing Ark in Newark’s Central Ward in the mid-1980s.

Map & Site Information

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

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