The story of Kea Tawana, a self-taught engineer, artist, and activist who became a national icon in 1980’s Newark, is featured in the Fall 2022 issue of Humanities magazine, the quarterly publication of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Tawana turned local heads and made national headlines with her quixotic mission to design and build a massive ark using materials salvaged from demolished buildings in Newark’s Central Ward.
“The story of Kea Tawana and her ark is riddled with gaps and varies with the era and the storyteller,” journalist Greg Allen writes in the article.
Much of what is known and remembered about Tawana is recorded in Kea’s Ark, a 2021 documentary film produced by PCK Media, aired by PBS, and funded in part by a grant from NJCH. The film, which has been shown by PBS stations throughout the country, was inspired by a 2016 exhibit organized shortly after Tawana’s death by Gallery Aferro and the Clement A. Price Institute at Rutgers University–Newark that featured records, memorabilia, and art created by Tawana.
The Emmy-winning film was included as part of NJCH’s 2022 summer mini film festival, in which participants viewed the film online and then joined filmmaker Susan Wallner for a moderated discussion held via Zoom.
Tawana’s work on the 3-story, land-bound ship began in 1982 and continued for years against a tide of resistance from the city’s zoning administration. Despite the vocal support of many local residents and prominent members of the international arts and humanities communities, under order of the City of Newark, Tawana disassembled the work in 1988.
“Whatever its failings as an ark or as art, it worked to get Kea Tawana through some difficult years in Newark,” Allen writes. “And it became a symbol, a part of many stories and experiences in a specific place and time: Newark in the 1980s. That time is, indeed, past, but the community, and its media and institutions, are still working to make sense of it and to understand its relevance to the present.”
The full article is available online at https://www.neh.gov/article/when-ark-was-built-newark.
A theatrical trailer and a 5-minute version of the film are available to view free at https://pckmedia.com/keas-ark/.
Photo by Ted Degener