I Was Here https://www.i-was-here.org/ is a public art project triggered by the realization that erasing the humanities from the classroom and the general population creates a need for a public art designed to educate and nourish with powerful content and beauty.
Margaret Walker, Program Officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities describes the project " I Was Here is a public art project that features images of contemporary African-American men, woman and children, turned into "Ancestor Spirit Portraits" in a collaboration between artist Marjorie Guyon and photographer Patrick J. Mitchell with language from poet by Nikky Finney. These portraits, acting as a living memorial to the enslaved persons bought and sold, are installed on roman blinds in windows of businesses across the country. Isn't there a sort of poetic irony in using blinds to open our eyes and minds?
Through collaged coordinates and poetry, the portraits reference significant touchpoints in the history of slavery and civil rights in the Americas. Collage, as an approach to image making, also allows multiple points of entry for the viewer. It is a physical manifestation of how the stories of many can coalesce. The collaged portraits form cohesive, ethereal images that convey the dignity of the African-American subject and family - two great casualties of slavery and things much at a loss in this country's visual history. Furthermore, for a community that, through oppression, is lacking substantial access to genealogical resources, these portraits can act as a set of archetypal ancestors for those who have lost a way to trace their own."
This project takes the humanities out of the citadel - out of the art gallery, the university, the museum and brings them clearly into public view through a series of 'on the street' museums that allow the unseen to become visible.
The first installation of the project manifests as a means to sanctify spaces where enslaved Africans were bought and sold. It is comprised of 21 Ancestor Spirit Portraits and launched on the public square of Cheapside surrounding the old Courthouse - once the site of one of the largest auction blocks for enslaved people in the United States. But it crosses the world referencing the Bight of Benin, the igbo Landing on St. Simon's Island, Georgia, the Broeck Race Course in Savannah where the largest two day sale of enslaved persons occurred as well as other physical locations central to the long lucrative life of the Middle Passage slave trade.
The mission of the project is twofold - to create a memorial to those who were once sold into slavery and in doing so, to seek a path beyond who we were and move into a vision of who we could be. The project aims to instill a deeper understanding of our common humanity and to create a means to "see the world with new eyes".
The medium itself is part of the place making work. Printing the Ancestor Spirit Portraits on large scale translucent tapestries and presenting the images as roman shades that can be raised and lowered allows business owners an installation they can control . And because the tapestries are translucent, letting ligjt through allows the images to be viewed from the street and in the interior space.
Although the project launched in Kentucky, the repercussions from slavery are not a 'southern issue'. It is a national wound that we, as fellow Americans. must work together to acknowledge and heal. Central to the project is a blessing that augments the visual imagery
There is a prayer that is spoken at each site where crimes against humanity occurred to sanctify the space. https://www.wkyt.com/video?vid=505652212
The Greater Clark Foundation and the Clark County-Bluegrass Community Foundation have joined together to invite the project to Winchester, Kentucky. After the installation of the Ancestor Spirit Portraits into the windows and doorways of the city, a second project will launch in the summer of 2019 that utilizes iconic Clark County locations and residents to create a true identity of community and place that bridge the divides of race, economic status and geography.
This artistic collaboration would not have been possible without support from founding sponsor Wells Fargo, VisitLex, Kentucky Arts Council, Paul Holbrook, The King Library Press at The University of Kentucky, John Hays and Patrick Estill @ JacksonKelly, John Morris, Barry Darnell Burton, Greater Clark Foundation, Clark County- Blue Grass Community Foundation, Knight Foundation Donor Advised Fund at the BGCF, Reimagine Cheapside, Bob Estes, Linda F. Vogel Kaplan, The Wills Gallery, Jeff Boggs and The Carnegie Center for Literacy.
View full project details at I Was Here
Short Street & Limestone Lexington,KY
I Was Here
Keeneland Foundation (2006)
Seven original pieces commissioned to celebrate the beauty and history of Keeneland Racecourse. Limited edition prints created to benefit the Keeneland Foundation.
LexPark - Victorian Square Garage
ILLUMINATED CITY: The project, sponsored by the Downtown Lexington Management District, brings beauty and light to a pedestrian and traffic heavy part of downtown that has been vacant for some time. Not only does the project create a fascinating streetscape, it calls new attention to the office space available for rent and highlights a local business, in this case a boutique.
The goal of the commission was foremost to illuminate a dark street in the center of downtown. The success of the project relies on large scale dye-sublimation prints on aluminum. This project is a template for an affordable high quality public art.
Commissioned by the Lexington Parking Authority, this project addresses both the interior and exterior of the Victorian Square Parking Garage. The exterior installation works as a direction sign to lead patrons into the Garage and the 4 interior pieces illuminate an otherwise empty waiting area on each floor – creating a moment of light and beauty in the garage.
Urbandesign.org defines Civic art as the sum total of the architecture, public spaces, monuments, urban design, and landscape of a city, but it is far more than the sum of the parts. Civic art is place making into art that creates timeless civic values and helps define cultures. Guyon's projects create public exhibitions that citizens encounter as they go about their day to day lives serving as a means to integrate the transcendent experience of art into the everyday business of living.
Illuminated City (January 2017-present)
Main Street, Lexington, KY
Nation of Nations (2010)
This series of 10 pieces collectively embodies the spirit of Walt Whitman who said in his 1855 essay, Preface to the Leaves of Grass: “Here is not merely a Nation but a teeming Nation of Nations”.
The project offers a promise of hope in uncertain times. It reclaims America and her principles of liberty and justice for all with paintings entitled My Country, Of Thee, I Sing, Sweetland, Of Liberty O Beautiful, Crowned, Thy Good, Sea 2 and Shining. These phrases are pulled from the songs we sang as children in elementary school, “My Country, Tis of Thee” and “America the Beautiful” .
Like statues from ancient Greece, the figures in this project are unnamed and unknown. They represent us all, without the entanglements of gender, race and religion. Each 6’8” - as tall as we could be if we stretched. In the upper corner of every panel, the phrase “Have Mercy on Us” appears in 10 languages: Cherokee, Chinese, English, Arabic, Hindi, Hebrew, Swahili, Spanish, Russian and Haitian Creole. The phrase was translated by people from all around the world. It represents the powerful and common human need to be accepted and harkens to each of us to consider the way we have been taught to welcome the stranger, to give comfort to those who suffer, and to see that without mercy, we each bear the burden of the outcast.
The universal language of mathematics is interwoven through the images the way that numbers identify and define us - who and what we are, how much and how little we have. The phone number of childhood, street address, social security number, bar code, zip code, numbers tattooed onto the arms of the Jews, the branding of slaves.
We cannot wait for someone else to act as a catalyst to engage our community, our country or our world.
Breeder's Cup Festival (October 2015)
Poem by Nick Stump, Artwork by Marjorie Guyon, Projections by Tom Willis
Projected in Downtown Lexington during the 2016 Breeder's Cup Festival
The project, sponsored by the Breeders Cup Festival, was imagined as a “Letter of Welcome to the People of the World” in Lexington for Breeders Cup. It brought together the combined talents of noted Kentucky writer and blues musician, Nick Stump, Tom Willis, Technical Director of the Downtown Arts Center and Marjorie Guyon. Our interest was to meld image, language and light. The projection manifested as projected video on a downtown building. It premiered during the popular Halloween “Thriller” spectacle, and continued to run nightly during the Breeder’s Cup Festival. The project was a visual counterpoint aimed to bring beauty and light to a pedestrian and traffic heavy part of downtown.