Kea's Ark

Kea's Ark

Fri, 09/22/2023 - 8:30pm - 9:00pm

Kea by the upside down flag, Bergen Street at 14th Ave., Newark, 1987 

Credit: Camilo José Vergara

This film tells the story of how one woman built a three-story ark in Newark, New Jersey in the 1980s. 

A self-taught artist and engineer, Kea Tawana designed and built the massive boat herself using materials salvaged from the surrounding neighborhood. She worked on it for years before city officials took note and demanded it gone. Although it no longer exists, Kea's Ark remains a powerful symbol of hope in Newark and beyond. Kea's Ark airs Friday, September 22 at 8:30 p.m. on WXXI-TV.

Kea was born in 1940 or thereabouts, no one knows for sure. According to her own account, she was alone and on the road by age 13. She landed in Newark, New Jersey in the late 1960s, and it became her home base until she left in the late 1980s. Living in Newark’s Central Ward—described by some as America’s ground zero for the urban decay prevalent during those years—made Kea angry about the corruption and neglect she saw in her own neighborhood. She began building her ark in 1982, and for a few years it became a mecca, drawing visitors and reporters from as far away as Japan. Kea also wrote a housing “manifesto,” created architectural designs for a utopian city, and made a series of photographs documenting city neglect, all in an attempt to right the wrongs she saw. Her focus and vision inspired many, even as she was written off by others as an eccentric troublemaker. Kea’s Ark explores her unique and enduring legacy.

Kea's Ark - Trailer from PCK Media on Vimeo.