Working on this sketchbook was an incredibly emotional experience, as I discussed in the prologue for the published version:
As I sit down to write this prologue to the Dominican Republic sketchbook, I must admit that I have been avoiding this moment. I formatted pages; I edited photos; I wrote blog posts; I sent emails… The publication of this book is even going to be a few days late because of my procrastination.
But this procrastination is not prompted by detachment or apathy. I suppose I have been avoiding the inevitable: realizing that I am not in Moca anymore.
That may sound slightly insane. After all, I’ve been in Raleigh for over three weeks now – longer than I was even in the DR. So why is it so hard for me to let go? Why do I listen for roosters in the morning? Why do I still expect to have a delicate film of sweat covering my entire body when I emerge from my dreams?
Because I found a family there. And my heart broke when I left.
I went to the Dominican Republic on a whim and a prayer. Connie, a fellow boxer and art enthusiast, had recommended a group of artists to me, and they were supposedly excited to meet me and show me around their neighborhood. But I was hesitant. After all, I didn’t know these people. So I fulfilled the responsible, self-sufficient, solo traveler protocol: I made appointments with other artists, made contacts with writers, did additional research for places to stay, frantically brushed up on Spanish survival phrases. You know, just in case these artists were crazy. Or they hated me. You know, reasonable fears.
And so I arrived, tentative reservations in hand. But when Dominga, the owner of a small bed-and-breakfast in a local neighborhood, picked me up from the airport, I could tell from her hug that the DR was going to be kind to me.
My first few days were spent in Santo Domingo where I met one artist and wandered the colonial district of the first city in the “New World.” You know, the place where the colonization of an entire hemisphere began. The historical significance is as jarring as the constant whistles from men hanging out the windows of cars. [My “research” had not prepared me for how vocal Dominican men are about their approval of how a woman looks.]
On the bus from the southern coast to the northern coast, I realized quickly that Santo Domingo’s chaotic fervor was not representative of the rest of the DR. Palm trees, rolling hills, quiet towns, farms. Life moved temperately here.
When the artists of Grupo Garabato, my hosts, met me at the bus station in Santiago, I knew my intuition from Dominga’s hug was right. Their eyes were warm, their embraces tender.
The experiences of that day turned into a reliable pattern. We ate. We sat on the front porches to escape the blazing heat or pouring rain. We rocked slowly in the chairs. We drank beer from tiny cups. We rocked some more. We talked and laughed for hours. Then we moved to another artist’s house and started the process all over.
The conversations between these artists and myself invariably transitioned from the weather to family to current work in the studio to aesthetic theory to how to sell artwork to economics and politics. The microcosm of the artist always tied directly to the macrocosm of the community.
Although most artists knew a little bit of English, these conversations were always in Spanish. Alberto would sometimes attempt to translate questions and phrases into English until I finally told him to stop. I needed to practice my Spanish and what better way than complete immersion in topics that I adored.
During these two weeks of intimate conversations, I was accepted as a member of all of these artists’ families. After the relative loneliness of some of the previous locations (particularly Berlin and Johannesburg), this immediate and expansive network of support stunned me. I let go of my “just in case” plans and melted into the group.
Their generosity, their sincerity, their thoughtfulness, their passion overwhelmed any lingering calluses in my heart and prompted an intense realization that I have yet to escape: these artists restored my belief that artistic passion can spark change.
On the bus back to Santo Domingo, I cried. On the flight to Miami, I cried. In the car to Raleigh, I cried. I was leaving mi familia, and my heart was screaming that this was a completely insane action.
But here I am. I have completed the prologue. I am officially living in Raleigh. I am no longer in Moca. But I will return. Mis amores, te lo prometo.
If you have seen previous sketchbooks, you will notice these sketchbook pages have less writing. These overwhelming emotions poured into my sketchbook as entirely visual expressions. All I could do was dump the colors and textures as quickly as possible.
The book you are holding in your hands (or reading on your computer screen) contains the amassed observations logged in my sketchbook and posted to the blog between May 1 – 31, 2013.
But ultimately, the information I cull together is meaningless unless you feel the urge to reconfigure the lessons learned from these experiences and apply them to your own projects. So please, comment with your reactions, experiences, recommendations, questions, and concerns on the project’s website http://131313sketchbookproject.com. I can’t wait to hear more about what you are working on.
I am yours,
[Note: El prólogo de la versión publicada también se escribe en español.]
Here are few samples of the sketches. (Click to see the image larger.)
($2.49 from the sale of each paperback sketchbook will go to Grupo Garabato to purchase paint for more community murals in Moca.)