I Was Here

122 North Upper Street
Lexington , Kentucky US

Phone: 859-333-0502

Website: https://i-was-here.org/

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I Was Here is a series of public art installations that memorializes Africans who were sold into slavery while charting a path from “who we were” toward a vision of “who we could be”. In partnership with historians and librarians across the country, the project creates “on-the-street museums” that bring alive a visual history. The art itself consists of 21 Ancestor Spirit Portraits on translucent tapestries that allow the images either to hang in windows, so they can be seen from both sides and illuminated from behind or more traditionally, to be installed on walls. They combine the words of poet Nikky Finney, the images of photographer Patrick J. Mitchell, and the vision of collage artist Marjorie Guyon. The project brings a face to the history of American slavery, from Africa to the Caribbean to the American South to the Civil Rights Movement and into today, in a way that focuses on the humanity of those enslaved. Through an opening Ceremony that features song and readings, as well as panel discussions and gatherings, the images become an essential part of a community’s conversation about our ongoing need for healing in order to create a strong shared humanity - to create a vision for our future as fellow citizens. The history of American slavery cannot be fully known unless it has a human face. The I Was Here Ancestor Spirit Portraits provide this human face. Interpretive text tied to the history of place help provide context and information, but the images themselves are what shift this history—and all its ramifications down to the present day—toward something thoroughly human-centric. The importance of time and place to the images is underscored by the use of key dates and latitude-longitude coordinates referencing the Bight of Benin, Black Wall Street in Tulsa, the Igbo Landing on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia, the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, the Broeck Race Course in Savannah, as well as other locations central to the long, lucrative life of the transatlantic Middle Passage slave trade.

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