I Was Here Black portrait display to have augmented reality


When baritone Michael Preacely first encountered the spirit portraits of the ancestors of “I Was Here,” he heard music.

“When I walked through the door, it blew me away,” Preacely says of the translucent depictions of Africans enslaved in the United States. “The presentation, just the pictures themselves – I was on the verge of tears, because it was so emotional just looking at these pictures.

“One picture in particular had a poem on it. And when I read this poem, I heard music in the background. And as I looked at the different pictures… I thought, “These pictures need music.

This exhibition in Clark County in the winter of 2019 was one of the first screenings of “I Was Here” after its debut in downtown Lexington in the fall of 2018. The portraits, photographed by the Lexington photographer Patrick Mitchell and created by visual artist Marjorie Guyon, were originally displayed in the windows of the downtown park then named Cheapside, since renamed Henry A. Tandy Centennial Park in 2020. The park was one of the most large southern slave markets, so the portraits were haunting reminders of what once happened in this public square.

Zaria Barber, 11, of Lexington, has her photo taken with one of the panels of the “I Was Here” project at the Lexington Legends Ballpark on June 26, 2021. The new piece of the art project will soon have an augmented reality musical to help tell the stories. Alex slitz [email protected]

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Artist Marjorie Guyon, right, speaks with members of Virtuosity after their performance at Lexington Legends Ballpark on June 26, 2021. Guyon created the “I Was Here” art project in Lexington. Alex slitz [email protected]

Many images contain longitudes and latitudes important to the Atlantic slave trade and words and phrases from the poem “Auction Block of Negro Weather,” written by former Kentucky poet laureate Nikky Finney.

“Part of the thinking behind the project was to bring what are fundamentally very sophisticated images that synthesize history, geography, poetry, photography, into the public sphere,” explains Guyon, who says that since his beginnings, “I Was Here” became the object of his work.

By displaying the images in the Lexington Public Square, where events such as the Farmers Market and Thursday Night Live take place, Guyon aimed to put the images and everything behind them in front of people who cannot go in a museum or art gallery. Since its inception, the project has visited a number of cities such as Louisville and New York, as well as places such as libraries and historic sites. A year ago, the art project received a $ 20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help expand the project, installing additional portraits for permanent display.

This summer, the project debuts on a sports site: Lexington Legends Ballpark. And soon, everyone will be able to experience the project like Preacely, with sound. This is because the new augmented reality exhibit will feature music provided by the opera singer.

The collaboration took place when Legends President and CEO Andy Shea was on his way to an event with Ashley Grigsby, the team’s ticket sales manager, and the woman who inspired the whole project when she visited Guyon in his studio overlooking Tandy Park. They played one of the pictures of Grigsby and his son, Carson, and she showed it to Shea.

“I said, ‘We have to have this at the ballpark,'” said Shea, standing in front of one of the pictures of Grigsby and his son at the park. “It’s all about inclusion and community, and that’s what the grassroots stage should be. ”

On the evening of June 26, Legends fans were greeted with portraits of the project in the windows of the baseball stadium reception hall behind the home plate, information about the project, and a new piece of music from Preacely and his together, Virtuosity.

Prior to the match, the group performed a mixed national anthem, incorporating “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a James Weldon Johnson anthem known as the Black National Anthem. The anthem has been sung before numerous sporting events over the past year following the regenerated conversation about race in the United States following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the extrajudicial assassination of Breonna Taylor by Louisville Police.

But mixing the two hymns wasn’t something Preacely or anyone else had heard before.

“This story started to come to life in terms of the history of the national anthem and the black national anthem coming together, in harmony,” Preacely said of the synthesis of the two anthems into one.

The crowd at the baseball stadium had a brief history of the national anthem sung before sporting events. Next, Virtuosity sang the mixed anthem, with the verses from “The Star-Spangled Banner” flowing into “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and back. He was greeted by a roar from the crowd, and it looked like everyone was ready to play ball.

But “The Star-Spangled Banner” was intended to follow the mixed anthem, out of deference to those who wanted to hear it. As Preacely sang, “Oh, say, can you see …” the fans got back on their feet and the players ran towards the baselines, and Preacely was proud that the fans seemed to have been happy with it. the hymn mixed.

“This will be the change we need in the country so that we can move forward,” he said. “When we have the courage to say, ‘OK, everything is fine.’ “OK, that’s what we are,” and we can go on from there. “

This is emblematic of one of Guyon’s goals for the “I Was Here” project, “to bring this understanding to how our citizenship is broken, but how incredibly powerful it could be.”

Michael Preacely, from left, lead members of Virtuosity, Kaymon Murrah, Marquita Richardson and Michelle Taylor perform a combined version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on June 26 at the Lexington Legends Ballpark. The song was performed in conjunction with the launch of the project instillation “I Was Here” by artist Marjorie Guyon at the ballpark. Alex slitz [email protected]

People are applauding after the combined performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on June 26 at the Lexington Legends Ballpark. Alex slitz [email protected]

More “I Was Here” artwork is planned for the stadium, and there is also more music in the works, including a mix of “Lift Every Voice” and “My Country Tis of Thee”. The musical aspect of the project began when parts of the project were on display at the Lexington Public Library, and a schedule was needed for the opening. Preacely and Virtuosity have recorded a number of plays, in particular spiritual plays such as “Down to the River to Pray” and “Wade in the Water” intended for use on the project website and in augmented reality segments. to accompany exhibitions of the work of art.

This new iteration of “I Was Here” comes at a time when there is a lot of talk about race and history, including the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, the first year of June was designated holiday and high level discussions. of how issues such as slavery and its consequences are taught in schools. In this way, “I Was Here” seems a bit prescient, illuminating stories through art.

“It doesn’t oppose anyone,” Guyon says. “There is no argument in this project, only the beauty and the spirit.”

Rich Copley is a former Herald-Leader writer and art editor who continues to appreciate the arts and culture of Lexington.

‘I was here’

Online: I was here.org

Legends of Lexington: The works of “I Was Here” will be on display at the Lexington Legends Ballpark throughout the summer. Visit milb.com/Lexington to learn more.


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