OPINION: Art project can spark conversation

Published 1:14 pm Monday, October 22, 2018

We are excited to learn of plans to bring an art project to Winchester that can open doors for conversations and connections.

Sandy Deese of Winchester has been collaborating with a group of artists in Lexington for the “I Was Here” art project.

“I Was Here” is an artistic collaboration between poet Nikky Finney, artist Marjorie Guyon and photographer Patrick J. Mitchell. The project is currently on display in the Cheapside neighborhood in Lexington.

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The project is composed of 21 Ancestor Spirit Portraits and currently centers on the public square at Cheapside, which was one of the most sizable slave auction sites in the United States.

It also references the Bight of Benin, the Igbo Landing on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia as well as other physical locations central to the transatlantic Middle Passage slave trade, marked by longitude and latitude.

The artists have recreated the original art pieces as roman shades that can be lowered at night to bring the “Ancestor Spirit Portraits” into view. The faces and bodies of the nine models used by the artists are artistic representations of those unnamed ancestors.

Deese is helping the artists bring the project to Winchester and other towns across America. The goal is to have the project in Winchester in the spring of 2019.

Deese told Sun reporter Lashana Harney the plan would be to see the project installed in the downtown Winchester area.

“Those of us involved are looking at bringing the project to Winchester as the very first out of town, outdoor museum using these hauntingly beautiful ancestor portraits to stimulate a new conversation about who we were, who we are and who we could be as fellow citizens,” Deese said. “The project is not just centered on Lexington because of Cheapside but is a local project for all communities to touch the spirit of humanity in a way that has not been done before. It’s an outdoor museum for all to see.”

We couldn’t have said it better.

Projects of this type will build on work already being done in our community to facilitate conversations about racial divides and how to overcome them.

Collaborating with other local groups, like Better Together Winchester, will be the key to making sure this becomes more than an art project or a museum.

The “I Was Here” project has the potential to be a strong catalyst for tough conversations that can lead to healing and building of deeper connections in our community.


Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board. The board is comprised of publisher Michael Caldwell and managing editor Whitney Leggett. To inquire about a meeting with the board, contact Caldwell at 759-0095.