I Was Here at One World Trade Center, NYC - CODAworx

I Was Here at One World Trade Center, NYC


Location: New York, NY, United States

Completion date: 2023

Artwork budget: $175,000

Project Team

Founder and CEO

Marc Aptakin

MadLab Studios

Chief Creative Officer

Roy Husdell

MadLab Studios

Conceptual Artist

Marjorie Guyon

i was here

Project Manager

Johnny Martinez

i was here

Spoken Word Narratives

Barry Burton

i was here


Ilene Shaw

NYCxDesign/Design Pavilion

Videography and Design

Fernando Rodriguez

MadLab Studios

Videography and Design

Yoel Meneses

MadLab Studios


Like an IMAX theater except on the street. The Podium at One World Trade Center - the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan. The spiritual significance of the I WAS HERE installation on this site - originally called 'The Freedom Tower' is powerful. The images rose impactfully 200 feet up from the ground, visible from 4 strong vantage points. Bringing these animated Ancestor Spirit Portraits to the 'Freedom Tower' created a monument to the people who built much of this country - including many of the significant buildings of Wall Street. In collaboration with Design Pavilion, NYCxDesign, MadLabs Studios and Spireworks, the animated Ancestor Spirit Portraits on the Freedom Tower honors and memorializes the Africans whose unpaid and unacknowledged labor and ingenuity built much of Manhattan. The project asks us to examine who we are to each other, who we are as a nation, and how we can work to heal the wound in our citizenship created by enslavement. In bringing the project into public spaces, we hope to raise awareness, which is the beginning of healing.


We brought the iconic Ancestor Spirit Portraits to the Podium on One World Trade. The site of America's 9/11 wound also overlooks our country's 2’nd largest auction block of the enslaved at the intersection of Wall Street and the East River.
Through the blending of history, technology, humanities and the arts, the project illuminates the significance of memory, history, and ancestry. The installation is an invitation to examine our history and to bring a new understanding to the concept of Nation Building. Truly understanding our history enables us to conceive ways to honor the Cofounders of our Country in a way that transforms how we see each other and ourselves. It creates an opportunity to internalize the profound and unacknowledged contribution of enslaved Africans.
Recognizing the ancestral roots that exist within the buildings of lower Manhattan, the installation allows us to pay tribute to those whose names are lost and whose labor is unacknowledged. To bring these Ancestor Spirit into full and prominent view onto one of the largest stages is a compelling invitation to the city, to America and to the world.


The I Was Here project began in 2016 as a set of emblematic Portraits created by photographing contemporary African Americans as archetypal Ancestor Spirits. The portraits represent our unacknowledged Nation Builders – imagery absent in America’s visual records.
In 2020, Ilene Shaw, Executive Director of NYCxDesign and Founding Producer of Design Pavilion invited the project to NYC. We spent 2 years searching to find the most resonant spot. Ilene secured the Podium on One World Trade Center, a 200’ supersized LED screen on all sides of the building.
Mark Aptakin and Roy Husdell of MadLabs came to Lexington to video on site of the largest auction block west of the Allegheny Mountains. They recorded the original models and created a new iteration of the project.
They synthesized the original 2017 images to animate the Spirit Portraits to be shown as a video on One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. The spiritual significance of an I Was Here installation on this site - originally called 'The Freedom Tower' is especially powerful. The images rose impactfully 200 feet up from the ground, visible from four strong vantage points transcending time and space, transmitting a force more potent than both.

Additional Information

To create and manifest a project of this scale is not possible without advocates, collaborators and visionaries. The I Was Here debut in New York City was made possible by Ilene Shaw, Marc Aptakin, Roy Husdell and the creative team at MadLabs and Yes, We Are Mad, Mark Domino of Spireworks, Kentucky Tourism, VisitLex, and CODAworx. For Australian Aboriginal people, the Dreamtime represents the era when Ancestral Spirits traversed the land, giving rise to life and shaping significant geographical features and landmarks. This concept is rich with intricate layers of meaning. The Dreamtime encompasses four facets: the genesis of all things, the vitality and influence of the ancestors, the cycle of life and death, and the enduring power within life. The installation of i Was Here on the Podium of Freedom Tower embodies a form of "The Dreamtime." Through the power of image and technology, the project asks us to acknowledge the Nation Builders of our Country and to redefine our understanding of the foundational role enslaved Africans played. I am calling your name is a key and repeating phrase in the narrative of the I Was Here project.