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I Was Here

This project began in 2016 with a vision of an African mother and child moving like points of light across the windows surrounding the largest auction site of the enslaved west of the Allegheny Mountains. I Was Here was created by photographing contemporary African Americans as archetypal Ancestor Spirits. The portraits embody Family: mother, father, brother, sister. They form cohesive, ethereal images that convey the dignity of the African American individual and family – imagery mostly missing in America’s visual history. It has developed into a portrait of powerful, dignified, holy, and beautiful people: a synthesis of history, image, narrative, and soundscape.

I Was Here begins with an honest look at the history of place. Ancestor Spirit Portraits have been integrated into key historic sites across America. The project creates a visual for an invisible history, asking us to examine who we are to each other, who we are as a nation, and how we can work to repair the wound in our citizenship created by enslavement. Through AR, image, narrative, and soundscape, the project creates a monument to a people.

What I Was Here accomplishes with its public art and public history installations is a mindful, reverent, and powerful acknowledgment of American history. The project invites as much as it prods visitors to allow this acknowledgment to hold public space and to accept the echoes layered into the project’s name, I Was Here.

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