Set in Ghana and in Montgomery, Alabama, The Lost Ancestors is the story of an African artist whose work reckons with the enduring legacy of slavery in Africa among Africans today.   

Ghanaian sculptor and activist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo grew up near the ocean in Ghana—ground zero of the slave trade. He’d heard stories from his elders about the terror they experienced as children knowing that their ancestors had disappeared. Now, he is at the forefront of a generation of young African artists rethinking and reclaiming the history of the African people subordinated by colonialism.    

For 400 years, West Africa was the center of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Yet years after the colonial era ended here, its brutal impact continues and Africans continue to be traumatized.  

Akoto-Bamfo wants the world to remember the horrors of the slave trade, not through abstract statistics but by seeing the faces of the enslaved themselves, who never got a chance to contribute to their communities and whose accomplishments in the West are rarely acknowledged. He has dedicated his life to sculpting the likenesses of enslaved Africans, honoring their lives through his art, and installing his work on both sides of the ocean. He has begun an ambitious installation, Nkyinkyim (Life’s Twisted Journey), stretching across 200 acres of his ancestral land in Ada in southern Ghana. He considers it his lifelong work.

“Every single thing we do, the air that we breathe, sometimes even the thoughts that we think, [are] a legacy of the slavery that happened here,” Akoto-Bamfo says in this documentary by grantees Linda Matchan and Susan Gray, with Lydie Diakhate and Jesse Beecher, and produced by Northern Light Productions. 

The film grew out of a story that Matchan wrote for The Boston Globe.