Here Lies (2019)

In late-March of 2019, the Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, GA reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in participating in Illumine 2019, a light-based event held to shed light on the untold stories and unique beauty of Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery. One of those stories that I particularly took interest in is of “Slave Square.”

Day time installation shot of “Here Lies”

Day time installation shot of “Here Lies”

Story of Slave Square

In 1852, soon after Oakland was established, the Atlanta City Council ruled that enslaved African people were to be buried on the eastern extremity of the property, apart from the public burial grounds, and this area became known as Slave Square. As the cemetery expanded over the years, the eastern boundary line moved further east causing the eastern extremity to become the center. Therefore, the Atlanta City Council decided that the people buried in Slave Square were to be exhumed and moved, some of them twice, to make room for more white burials. They now permanently rest in the renamed “African American Grounds.” Because of their removal and due to the fact that many of their families could not afford headstones, many of the graves in this area are unmarked and unnamed.

After learning about this story I thought to myself, what can I do to properly memorialize and honor the spirits laid to rest in these grounds?

I spent weeks brainstorming and throwing out ideas until Cooper Sanchez, the Creative Director of Illumine, showed me the undertaker ledgers he had re-discovered, containing all of the names of the people buried at the former “Slave Square.”

With that re-discovery, I knew immediately that I wanted to highlight this story by giving the souls buried here the proper honoring, and memorial service and they never received. Therefore, for about a week I spent time tracing every name from the ledgers by hand, then importing them into an animation to be projected onto a fabricated headstone. The animation projected contained all of the names from the ledgers looped continuously to give each name time to live on the headstone.

Also, before slavery, as well as during, it was common practice to bring offerings of common items the deceased may need to cross over and for the after life. Therefore, I also had “offerings” fabricated and placed at the headstone, and gave viewers the opportunity to bring their own. (as seen in the photo above).

Lettering of the names in the Slave Square ledgers

Lettering of the names in the Slave Square ledgers

The installation remained on view in Oakland Cemetery for four nights (May 9 - 12th) in the African American Grounds. A video of the piece can be viewed below.

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