Kea Tawana's Ark to be Remembered and Celebrated in Upcoming Newark Exhibtion: Call for Voices


Gallery Aferro and the Clement A. Price Institute on
Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience to Draw on
Community Memory to Explore Newark’s Legendary Piece of Public Art.

In the 1980s, when popular visions of Newark steered many people clear of the city, visitors arrived from around the globe to see Kea Tawana’s Ark, a three-story wooden boat that rose above the Central Ward. Over 2015-2016, Gallery Aferro and the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University – Newark will collect oral history interviews with those who knew the Ark, gather relevant archival and press material, and launch an exhibition and public programming to explore the meaning and significance of this quintessential Newark story. More details about our discoveries, events, and offerings will be announced regularly throughout the next two years.

A self-taught artist and builder, Kea Tawana began collecting materials from abandoned and demolished buildings in the late 1960s. After studying maritime construction manuals, she laid the keel for her boat on an empty lot in 1982. As the Ark slowly rose over the neighborhood, residents, artists, school groups, politicians, and enthusiasts from around the world came to the corner of 14th Avenue and Camden Street to visit. The Ark became an international cause célèbre in 1986, when the new mayoral administration demanded it be torn down as an eyesore and impediment to neighborhood development. After a lengthy legal battle, Kea herself dismantled the Ark and left Newark.

“The Ark became a vessel into which many observers poured their hopes and desires for Newark,” says Dr. Mark Krasovic, associate director of the Price Institute. “For some, it was an embodiment of the grit and spirit that anchored communities in some tough years for American cities. For those invested in new development and the oft-invoked local renaissance, it was the embodiment of a city best left in the past.” The Ark can be seen as the East Coast’s version of the Watts Towers (Oakland) or the Heidelberg Project (Detroit), but it also was wholly unique as art/shelter.


The Gallery and Institute seek to capture the complexity of the Ark story and its meanings by interviewing people with memories of it, from those who led the fights for and against it to those who may have just driven by it on their way to work. Anyone wishing to share the own story of the Ark should send a message to or call Mark Krasovic at 973-353-1051

The Ark exhibition at Gallery Aferro is timed to coincide with Newark’s 350th birthday celebrations in 2016. The complicated story it captures will connect to local and national conversations about art, equity, gentrification, and community self-determination. “Thirty years later, the story of the Ark could not be more timely, allowing us to talk as a multigenerational community about land use, agency, beauty, and utility in the built environment. Whether it is the impact of new developments, the sale of vacant lots, or public art commissions, we have so much to think and talk about right now” says Emma Wilcox, co-director of Gallery Aferro.

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