Heather L Johnson
In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful
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given

Hand-embroidered artworks given to people or left in the landscape while traveling. Images are schematics from my shop manual, layered with text describing experiences from the road. Of 47 set loose so far, here are a few examples.

A work in progress.

A work in progress.

I stitched most of the pieces created for ISFB while on the road. In gardens and public squares, where the opportunities were plenty for meeting people. This act was and is a gateway, a departure point for lovely botched-language conversations filled with hand gestures and facial expressions. 

Sarteneja Baptist High School [Sarteneja, Belize]

Sarteneja Baptist High School [Sarteneja, Belize]

The site of the first piece I left in Central America, during the third ISFB journey in 2015. Earlier that day I'd ridden my bike around Sarteneja's dusty streets, speaking to high school-aged kids and their family members about some of their survival struggles. Many of the students attending this school couldn't afford its tuition or uniforms. Some part of me hoped that an artwork left there would bring the school and its kids a spark of good luck. The school's math teacher and principal, Erlindo Novelo, accepted it graciously.

Erlindo Novelo, principal of Sarteneja Baptist High School

Erlindo Novelo, principal of Sarteneja Baptist High School

Sarteneja, Belize. 2015

Sarteneja piece detail

Sarteneja piece detail

Text reads, "ninos corriendo baja la lluvia" (English: "kids running in the rain"). Based on a memory from ISFB2/2014 in El Tajin, Veracruz, Mexico.

Bus stop. ISFB3/2015, site 2. Chicaman, Guatemala

Bus stop. ISFB3/2015, site 2. Chicaman, Guatemala

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Santo Gabino. Chicaman, Guatemala

Santo Gabino. Chicaman, Guatemala

Santo's land covered the hill behind the bus stop where I'd decided to leave an artwork. My motivations for wanting to leave it there were unclear.. perhaps it was because I wanted someone to find it, fast. And fast someone did!

Santo approached quickly, with a look of friendly curiosity. He was thin.. his cow grazing the top of the hill was even thinner. I tried to explain what I was doing in my horrible Spanish; I knew it was pointless to try to convey why I wanted to leave these behind.. so I just handed the piece to him instead. He looked bewildered.. but I was able to get across that it was a gift.. which he accepted.. and smiled.

I started giving the pieces directly to people from this point on, more and more. 

Chicaman piece detail.

Chicaman piece detail.

Text reads, "bache del tamano de una vaca," or "pothole the size of a cow" (inspired by a fateful pothole encounter I'd had in Mexico the year before. If curious, you can read all about it here).

El Corpus, Honduras. ISFB3/2015, site 5.

El Corpus, Honduras. ISFB3/2015, site 5.

I only spent a day in Honduras, riding as quickly between border crossings as I could. I was conned on the Honduras/El Salvador border, which soured my mood, prompting me to get across the country as fast as possible. 

I knew I needed to change my perspective, as I was in danger of callously dismissing an entire country out of impatience and narrow minded stupidity. So I looked hard for a site to leave a piece, to create a positive experience for myself.. and hopefully for someone else too.

Sadly I didn't record her name. A woman was working in front of her house, on a windy stretch of road near the town of El Corpus. Impulsively I pulled over and parked. I pulled out an embroidery and proceeded to embarrass myself, presenting it to her in my horrible Spanish. Looking amused, she accepted the piece as her four kids gazed at me, knowing full well I was from another planet. 

She graciously allowed me to photograph her as I placed the piece on her barbed wire fence, letting it flutter there along with her children's drying clothes.

I wrote about this experience in a blog entry, here.

El Corpus piece detail.

El Corpus piece detail.

Isla Del Oro, Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands, Panama). ISFB3/2015 site 9.

Isla Del Oro, Kuna Yala (San Blas Islands, Panama). ISFB3/2015 site 9.

To get my bike around the Darien Gap (the piece of jungle that creates a more-or-less impenetrable break in the Pan American Highway between Panama and Colombia), I found a sailboat willing to put my bike aboard its hull, transporting it between Portobello, Panama and Cartagena, Colombia. The sea crossing took 5 days, during which time we stopped in the Kuna Yala, or San Blas Islands.

A Kuna family was kind enough to host our ship, its crew and passengers for an afternoon, cooking us a fish dinner, allowing us to get drunk on endless "coco locos" - fresh coconuts hacked open with a machete and spiked with Caribbean rum.

I had an amazing botched Spanish conversation with a man named Fidel, the father of the family, who happened to be my age. After I explained what I was doing, he wanted to know why I was traveling by myself. Where was my husband? It's a question I got asked a lot.

So I left him a piece.

(I wrote all about this experience in a blog entry, here.)

San Blas piece detail

San Blas piece detail

"Un hombre, negro y solo, en una carretera muy blanca". In English: "a man, black and alone, on a very white highway"..

Bogota, Colombia. ISFB3/2015, site 11.

Bogota, Colombia. ISFB3/2015, site 11.

In a park in the Candelaria neighborhood of Bogota. It's a section of town known for its exquisite street art and heroin use. A dichotomy that illustrates the essence of "the frightening and beautiful" - that tension lying between experiences and points of view that to me completely destroys the relevancy of assumptions or reactions we have regarding the "other".

I placed this embroidery on a slide attached to a platform with a jagged hole in the top that any kid could easily have fallen through. When I walked away, I looked over my shoulder and noticed a young dad had picked it up. He then gave it to his son.

Bogota, Colombia. 2015

Bogota, Colombia. 2015

Detail of piece left on a slide in the Candelaria district of Bogota. Text reads, "un avion en pedazos", which in English translates to "an airplane in pieces". Based on the memory of a site a friend and I encountered near Mexicali, northern Baja California, Mexico during the summer 0f 2014.

San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala

San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala

I was sitting in the town square, working on an embroidery in the drizzling rain, when six women, a family of three generations, walked out of the church in dresses they'd stitched themselves, color exploding everywhere. They took pictures of each other in front of the San Pedro statue (the town's patron saint).. and I saw an opportunity to talk to them. So I offered to take their picture with their phones.. and a conversation started. 

Galeana, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. ISFB2/2014, site 1.

Galeana, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. ISFB2/2014, site 1.

The first piece I placed in Latin America. In a crumbling building, where I doubted anyone would find it. Someone did.. my determined friend, on his own ride through the Americas, a year later.

ISFB2/2014 Site 1.

ISFB2/2014 Site 1.

Galeana piece detail.

Galeana piece detail.

Text reads, "Calido abrazo con lagrimas" ("warm embrace with tears").

Found..

Found..

January 2015, by Clinton Logan, on his way to South America.