“I Was Here” shines a light on neglected history

The “I Was Here” project began here in Lexington, and will debut in lower Manhattan this October.

Tapestries draped over the Old Lexington Courthouse.

The project started here in Lexington, with large tapestries draped over the Old Fayette Co. Courthouse. | Photo courtesy of the I Was Here Project

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A local art project that began as a vital reminder of our nation’s history will make its debut on the One World Trade Center in New York City next month.

“I Was Here” started as a question artist Marjorie Guyon asked, “What would happen if you could bring the most beautiful, powerful ideas into public space?”

Staring out of her studio window and inspired by the current political climate, Guyon had a vision of an African mother and child “moving from window to window, like points of light.” Photographer Patrick J. Mitchell used this inspiration to photograph contemporary African Americans as archetypal ancestor spirits, thus bringing the idea to life.

According to the website, “They embody our missing portraits of family: mother, father, brother, sister. These models stood in the gap, representing the spirits of the ancestors, forming cohesive, ethereal images that convey the dignity of the African American individual and family — imagery largely invisible.”

As Lexington was a hub for auctions of the enslaved in pre-Civil War Kentucky, Guyon says the project aims to shed light “on the wound enslavement created in our fundamental understanding of what citizenship is.”

“We have to acknowledge who was instrumental in building the foundation of the country…The project in the end is about citizenship.”

A mockup of images projected onto the One World Trade Center in New York City.

A mockup of what the project could look like when projected onto the One World Trade Center in New York City. | Photo courtesy of the I Was Here Project

Sending a message beyond Lexington

Beginning Thursday, Oct. 12 until Sunday, Oct. 22, NYCxDESIGN will showcase I Was Here through a 200-ft high digital projection on all four walls of the One World Trade Center Podium in New York City, every evening from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.

But you don’t have to travel to experience this impactful art project. VisitLEX has launched an on-the-street, self-guided digital tour that takes you through 24 sites “that integrate the Ancestor Spirits Portraits with sound, song, and narrative.”

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