- Exhibit: "earth.sky"
- Genre: Multimedia installation: Site-specific video, audio, music, text & voice
- Location: Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA
- Dates: May 9th and 10th, 2015
It has been a little over a year since I began roaming historic Mount Auburn Cemetery with video cameras, still cameras and digital audio recorders, looking for compelling stories about some of the people interred here since 1831. Most of the inscriptions are terse:
MARY A. COOK
MAR. 21, 1832
MAY 25, 1905
But others tell a story. The monument to Peter Byus reads like the preface to a novel:
IN MEMORY OF PETER BYUS
BORN IN HAMPSHIRE COUNTY VIRGINIA. A SLAVE.
AT THE AGE OF ABOUT THIRTY-SIX
HE FLED TO BOSTON, FOR FREEDOM. WHERE
HE RESIDED FOR THE LAST THIRTY YEARS, OF HIS LIFE.
HE DIED THE 27TH OF FEBRUARY 1867
AGED 66 YEARS.
HE WAS A SINCERE CHRISTIAN, A TRUE FRIEND AND AN HONEST MAN.
Peter Byus’ narrative is further fleshed out by his last will and testament, a document that lives on to this day. It bears wrinkled, yellowing witness to a uniquely American journey. The language of that time is poetic, philosophical and thoughtful.
March 25, 1867
"I, Peter Byus of Boston in the County of Suffolk and Commonwealth of Massachusetts, being in feeble health, but of sound and disposing mind & memory, also - conscious of the uncertainty of human life, do make, publish & ordain - this my last Will & Testament…”
Against all odds, Byus becomes a man of means. Like many people who expect to pass away, he arranges to leave some funds for a relative. But pause here, dear Reader, and consider the implications of this bequest.
“I give, devise and bequeath to my brother Alfred Brown the sum of five hundred dollars, and as my said Brother is now in one of the Southern States & either a slave or lately emancipated, so there may be some difficulty in communicating with him…”
Byus goes on to specify items and funds from his estate for his friends and for the woman who nursed him during his illness. But throughout his will, he is mindful of those less fortunate than he.
“I give, devise & bequeath all my furniture, books & all articles of use & ornament to the Union Mission & home for little wanderers in Baldwin Place, to be used & appropriated, so far as may be, for the benefit of Children of Color…”
Byus can’t forget the millions of recently freed slaves. People who, like himself, had been sentenced to a lifetime of chattel slavery solely by accident of birth.
“All the rest and residue of my estate I give and bequeath to the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society to be appropriated by them to the use and benefit of the most necessitous of my own race and color.”
Throughout, Byus’ final document shows his enduring religious faith.
“& I am grateful for this day of apparent deliverance of my race in this Country from the degradation and barbarism of slavery and I am grateful to my God, that after having been a slave myself for thirty seven years, that my deliverance was effected and that I have been enabled to save something that I can leave behind me to aid in the blessed work of elevating & saving those of my Brethren whom the Providence of God is now emancipating.”
I have filmed and photographed Peter Byus’ monument in the heat of Summer, a blizzard of winter, and in Spring and Fall. It never fails to break my heart. For my multimedia exhibit, “earth.sky”, I asked Tyrone Latin, a gentleman with a fine voice, to come to the studio and record excerpts from the Will. In the finished piece -- one of eighteen created exclusively for this project -- we hear Latin reading Byus while these images float by on three screens. Please come and share in this experience on May 9th and 10th. Details below. -
Video Preview: https://vimeo.com/120302725
Special Thanks: Stephen Pinkerton, Docent, for original historical research and image of last will and testament
------------------------------------------------------------------------------On May 9th and 10th, as part of Cambridge Open Studios, Mount Auburn Cemetery will be presenting a weekend-long preview of earth.sky, a site-specific multimedia installation for Mount Auburn’s Story Chapel, consisting of synchronized high definition video and audio projections onto interior architectural surfaces within the 19th-century structure.
In earth.sky, audiences experience a uniquely emotional, historical journey through landscape cinematography, high-fidelity audio, music, and photography, while hearing the inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking and often uplifting words of individuals interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery from its inception to today.
Story Chapel will be open to visitors from 12 – 6 p.m. on May 9th and 10th and I'll be on site from 12 – 5 pm during the earth.sky installation. All are welcome. This project is supported by a grant from the Cambridge Arts Council.
Roberto Mighty, MFA
Artist-in-Residence, Mount Auburn Cemetery 2014-2017
• Online Gallery: http://roberto-mighty-rjj1.squarespace.com
• getting.older. multimedia Installation 2015
• earth.sky multimedia installation Mount Auburn Cemetery 2015, 2017
• Wind, Sand & Stars Truro Center for the Arts Gallery at Castle Hill 2014
• Massachusetts Convention Center Authority Lens of Society 2014
• Trees of My City, Scandinavian Cultural Center 2013
• National Science Foundation Screening 2013
• Harvard Fisher Museum, Multimedia Installation 2013
• Artist-in-Residence, Harvard Forest 2011-2012
• MacBeth, Actors Shakespeare Company 2012
• Zalmen Or The Madness of God, The Lab at Harvard 2012
• Lesley University Gallery, Multimedia Installation 2011
• Trees of My City, Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University 2011
Roberto Mighty is a filmmaker, new media artist, fine art photographer, educator and musician who uses storytelling, art and interactive technology in his work. He is Artist-in-Residence at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Adjunct Professor at Emerson College's Department of Visual and Media Arts, Visiting Artist at Truro Center for the Arts, and teaches private multimedia workshops across the USA live and online.