ATLANTIS RISING: Ellex Swavoni’s Sci-Fi Monument To Atlanta’s Black Heroines

Ellex Swavoni’s monumental sculpture Atlantis Rising went on view in Atlanta’s Troy Davis Park (known officially as Woodruff Park) in December 2020.

If Black heroines, on a mission to save the world, wanted to recharge in the comfort and safety of their own lush Afrotopia — where would it be? The bayous surrounding the Big Easy, with their rich Afro-diasporic traditions? Maybe the great Motor City that birthed Motown? Or, would they emerge in the former Black Mecca still known as Atlanta? 

If the Black heroine were to choose Atlanta, a home shared by MLK, Lil Baby, and the infamous Koch brothers, would they feel the deep urge to protect that space? An urge similar to that felt by the nurturers and keepers of the land from the city’s historically Black West End to the Southside. The same spirit which consumes the walls of their equivalents at Spelman and throughout the Atlanta University Center. The one swelling the hearts of certain souls that migrate here, many already with deep historical ties to the South. It’s this spirit that imbues artist Ellex Swavoni’s public sculpture Atlantis Rising.

Located in the center of Downtown Atlanta in Woodruff Park — renamed unofficially by the Occupy movement as “Troy Davis Park” — Atlantis Rising’s presence is a totem for what could have been already, in the epicenter of a city out-championed by commercial forces. 

The artist’s first public art piece, Swavoni’s Atlantis leans on the narrative of revolution, by embracing its imagined potential, taking fantastical thoughts beyond our current position to forge whimsical manifestations of new futures.

Ellex Swavoni’s Atlantis Rising featured in a two-month public art exhibition organized by arts nonprofit Dashboard. Photography by David Batterman. Courtesy of Dashboard.

Solid and sovereign in its commanding presence — its head and torso alone stand 8-feet-tall — the sculpture emerges from its concentric base as if provoked by a utopia kin to Plato’s design. Swavoni utilizes industrial foam and polyurethane, with armature and a steel base, creating a structure that’s minimal in waste, while still being highly durable.

The artist, originally from Louisville, Kentucky, was transformed by the complex creative energy and unity she discovered upon moving to Atlanta. “It’s a very, very important place,” she explains of the inspiration for the work. “Even now, I’m still trying to figure out how to protect Atlanta.” The artist’s sculpture makes parallels to themes of Afrofuturism and Atlanta’s innovative community spirit — Atlantis — what is and what’s now lost. 

 “Atlantis Rising is what happens when I'm standing in two places at once. I’m in America being entranced by the narrative of the superhero’s journey — while also feeling so much distance from the past, and my ancestry.” It’s making connections to childhood and concealed indigeneity. What’s lost and what’s emerging beneath the surface.

Ellex Swavoni’s monumental sculpture Atlantis Rising went on view in Atlanta’s Troy Davis Park (known officially as Woodruff Park) December 2020. Photography by David Batterman. Courtesy of Dashboard.

 Swavoni’s sculpture arises into irony, that of a power clash between the imperialistic forces gentrifying a place and the communities who built it, and made it sacred, still holding on. The work draws you into the city’s foundation, while signaling its shakiness. It’s a monument to an Atlanta led, built, and reflected through the eyes and work of Black heroines, but a city still unwilling to embrace that identity to make it a safe home.

Text by Tash Nikol.

Photography by David Batterman. Courtesy of Dashboard.