The first thing you notice about Jacques Martial is his voice: considered, warm, and deep. Back when he was an actor and director, he loaned this voice to Denzel Washington, amongst others, in Hollywood films dubbed in French. Now, as chairman of the Mémorial ACTe, opened in Guadeloupe in 2015, his path leads him to serve this site of remembrance that seeks to inspire the future. We enjoyed a personal tour with our passionate guide.
How was the Mémorial ACTe conceived and what message does it wish to express?
The Caribbean Centre for Expression and Remembrance of the Slave Trade is first and foremost a symbolic location, a mausoleum in homage to former slaves. But beyond its primary role of remembrance and contemplation, it is also a museum with innovative architecture and curation that combines history and artefacts with new technologies and modern art. By creating a shared collective memory of slavery and the slave trade, the Memorial ACTe plays a key role in understanding the modern world and its intercultural relations. It should help us overcome the greatest challenge of the 21st century: living together.
Tell us a bit about the Memorial ACTe’s location and architecture...
Designed to resemble a lighthouse, the Memorial ACTe is the first thing you see when you arrive in Pointe-à-Pitre Bay from the sea. Symbolically, it was built on the site of the largest sugar factory in the Lesser Antilles, where forced labour was still being used in the 19th century. The building is 240m long, and covered in a silvery mesh. It evokes the overground roots of damned fig trees taking over ruined walls, insinuating themselves between the cracks but also helping them to stay standing. The mesh contains a black box, representing the black peoples. The shards of quartz within represent the souls of victims of slavery and the slave trade. A walkway joins the second floor to the Morne Mémoire on the neighbouring hill, a contemplative garden with superb views of the bay.
What can visitors expect?
We wanted the visitor experience to be as immersive as possible, with an audio guide available in six languages*, including Creole. The idea is to offer visitors an experience that is at once emotional, sensory, and thought-provoking. Through the permanent exhibition, they will learn about the history of Guadeloupe and the Caribbean, always in relation to the main history. The mechanisms of slavery are covered in full, from Antiquity to the modern day. Videos, sound effects, and interactive computers and tables assist in exploring the theme. Modern art occupies a central place within the Memorial, with artwork incorporated into the displays.
What are your favourite pieces?
I always find the Arbre de l’oubli particularly striking. It’s a monumental piece by the Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou. Thierry Alet’s La Voleuse d’enfant, an experimental polychrome triptych with a colour code for each letter spelling out “Hail Mary” in three languages is all the more striking because it evokes the Code noir (a body of legal texts governing the lives of slaves in French colonies in the 18th century - Ed.). It is on display in a glass case and visitors can virtually turn its pages
Is the Mémorial ACTe popular with visitors?
We have already welcomed 350,000 visitors, including 150,000 locals from Guadeloupe. And that’s on an island with 400,000 inhabitants. The satisfaction rate is high, and we won the European Museum of the Year Award from the European Council in 2017, which is a fine distinction.
*Audio guides available in French, Creole, English, Spanish, Italian, and German