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Muhammad Ali Center to host historic first showcase of I Was Here Project’s Ancestor Spirit Portraits



Muhammad Ali Center to host historic first showcase of I Was Here Project’s Ancestor Spirit Portraits

LOUISVILLE, Ky (Aug 22, 2022) — The Muhammad Ali Center is thrilled to offer the first exhibition of the I Was Here Project’s original Ancestor Spirit Portraits, which opens to the public on Saturday, August 27.

The Portraits are an intricate synthesis of photography and collage that merge image with poetic narrative and geographical coordinates. Each signed with the thumbprint of artist, writer, photographer, and model to bring voice and presence to the historic role of enslaved Africans. They challenge us to acknowledge and work to heal our broken citizenship.

Join the Ali Center and I Was Here for this powerful exhibit that brings the presence of these iconic Ancestor Spirits into public space.

“The Ali Center is honored to host the first public exhibition of these ancestor portraits,” said Erin Herbert, Ali Center Senior Director of Education and Programming . “These stories are important to share in our ongoing fight for social justice and we’re especially excited that Muhammad Ali’s thumbprint will be included in the exhibit.”

Ali’s thumbprint, taken in 2013,  appears in the exhibit alongside those of the contributing artists, in part thanks to Brook White of Flame Run.

“The I Was Here Project’s emblematic Spirit Portraits bring to light the significant impact of the people that have come before us and who often created the architectural landscape of today,” said Michael Baer, Muhammad Ali Center Board Member. Accompanying this exhibition is an Augmented Reality hub in the Ali Center sharing information about the project and Louisville’s history .This technology allows us to place these Spirit Portraits – accompanied by narrative and soundscape – in areas of cultural and historic significance throughout the country.  We are so honored to display the original pieces of artwork in the Muhammad Ali Center for the first time ever in our home state of Kentucky. The global humanitarian efforts of Muhammad Ali inspire us everyday to continue pushing forward this narrative of crafting a shared citizenship.”

The I Was Here project began in 2016 as a set of emblematic Ancestor Spirit Portraits created by photographing contemporary African Americans as archetypal Ancestor Spirits. The portraits embody Family. They form cohesive, ethereal images that convey the dignity of the African American individual and family – imagery mostly missing in America’s visual history. The “here” of I Was Here begins with an honest look at the history of place and creates a monument to a people. Ancestor Spirit Portraits have been integrated into key historic sites across America. Through these installations, the iconic Spirit Portraits create a visual for an invisible history. They ask us to examine who we are to each other, who we are as a nation, and how we can work to heal the wound in our citizenship created by enslavement. What I Was Here accomplishes with its public art and public history installations is a mindful, reverent, and powerful acknowledgment of American history.

“Based on archival records, the enslavement of Africans touched almost every corner of the United States,” said Marshall Fields, I Was Here Community Liasion. “Synthesizing a wealth of humanities and historical scholarship, the I Was Here project seeks to reconfigure, ignite, and activate a shared citizenship.We are thrilled to be engaged in this long term partnership with the Ali Center. We are looking forward to sharing the message of the project with the City of Louisville.”

The I Was Here exhibit is made possible by partnerships with Flame Run, Old 502 Winery, and Unified Sign and Design.

The ehxhibit will open to the public on Saturday, August 27 at noon. Later that evening, there will be a reception with special remarks at the Ali Center. It’s free to attend and registrants can follow this link.

To Register

For more information:


Annie Moore

Muhammad Ali Center

(502) 992.5338 or (812) 786.1072

About the Muhammad Ali Center

The Muhammad Ali Center, a 501(c)3 corporation, was cofounded by Muhammad Ali and his wife Lonnie in their hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The international cultural center promotes the Six Core Principles of Muhammad Ali (Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Respect, and Spirituality) in ways that inspire personal and global greatness and provides programming and events around the focus areas of education, racial and gender equity, and global citizenship. The Ali Center is formally associated with the United Nations Department of Global Communications, and is one of the newest stops on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. The Center’s headquarters also contains an award-winning museum experience. For more information, please visit

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