I’ll openly admit it – I’m a ‘fraidy cat. I am paralyzed by heights; I still cry when I have to get shots; I generally avoid confrontation like it causes boils.
But I’m also a lover. I hug rather than shake hands; I call everyone “sweetheart” or “darlin’”; my catchphrase is “let’s snuggle.”
In March 2012, I embarked on my first-ever international trip to Cape Town, South Africa to work with a collective of street artists to spread the message that public creative expression can spark social change. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was absorbed into a culturally vibrant community that craved color as much as economic equality.
South Africa, like most countries, has its own unique blend of economic inequality, historic racial tensions, regional pride, and fear-based xenophobia, but the more time I spent in Cape Town, the less I saw “other-ness” between the self-differentiated Capetonians; at the same time, I also noticed more and more commonalities to the people “back home” (North Carolina). During this expedition, my sketchbooks emerged as my forum to explore these observations by combining portraits, abstract patterns, organic natural forms, collage, and writing as a reflection upon the power of empathy and the obstacles we concoct to impede connection to other people.
Why allow our knee-jerk assumptions and fears of rejection dictate our willingness to reach out and empathize with a stranger? Because it might complicate our worldview? Because it might spur us to change our day-to-day actions? The world is too complex and too beautiful to remain in a bubble — and thankfully there are so many artists itching to open up the world for all of us.
The dear artist friends I made in South Africa cemented for me how deeply creative individuals can impact their communities and that this impact always comes from a passion for building mutually-nurturing relationships. Recognizing that our deeply-seeded desire for connection rarely looks outside of our small communities, I vowed to spend a year using art as a tool to connect people on a global scale — and so the 13/13/13 Sketchbook Project was born.
Swallowing the aforementioned fear of confrontation and death-by-rickety-airplane, I spent hours researching cities all over the world, narrowing the pool down, changing my mind, contacting potential host families, changing my mind again, looking at flights, changing my mind again… I think you get the drift. But a list finally emerged, and what an itinerary it will be!
Living in 13 consecutive countries will challenge my abilities to adapt to new sequestered communities, but this potent artistic exploration into our creative commonalities will spark an onslaught of unexpected, perspective-changing collaborations.
The sheer amount of drawing, writing, and travel time required to fill 13 sketchbooks is admittedly daunting, but the numerology of “13” – leadership that is hard working and devoted to slow progress – seems like an acceptably auspicious sign.
I absolutely can’t WAIT to share this journey with you. (Except for the vaccinations part. Seriously – does anyone want to go to the doctor’s office with me and hold my hand?)
This project would not be possible without the loving support of my partner, Ricky, (who has discovered through trial-and-error how to remind me to eat and to sleep and to for-the-love-of-all-that-is-good-stop-looking-at-ticket-price-comparisons). A big thank-you as well to my understanding parents (who only smiled and shook their heads) and my constructive-advice-giving friends.
Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. Comment away with your stories!
For past projects, check out my art website www.catherinejhoward.com.