100 AMERICANS: A Presence of the Past in Philadelphia, a project commissioned by the Rosenbach Museum and Library, was an installation of 100 faces of Americans of African descent that I photographed in the streets of Philadelphia as a response to the Rosenbach’s exhibition “Look Again African American History is American History,”
The Rosenbach Museum and Library invited me to make a work based on their exhibition “Look Again African American History is American History.” The exhibition included historical documents and books chronicling slavery and slave owners in the United States, signatures of our “founding fathers,” many of whom where slave owners, and the texts of statements made by prominent early American leaders, all of which came from the Rosenbach Museum and Library collections.
I longed for the voices of the slaves. It was difficult to get a sense of them as human beings. For me the exhibition cried out for the attention and presence of contemporary Americans who identified as being of African descent. But would they be willing to be placed in the context of “Look Again African American History is American History?” Seeking the answer, I began introducing myself to strangers on the streets of Philadelphia and asked if I could photograph them for the project. More than 100 were proud to be identified in the context of the Africans who were slaves here in America.
A year later the project was installed at Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania.
Copyright © Clarissa Sligh, 2007