This summer the artists of Instituto Buena Bista (IBB) are working on different locations in different neighbourhoods in Rotterdam. This results in special encounters and many initiatives. A lot of the artists are working on a project in which a personal narrative is the protagonist. This is also true of Johanna Franco Zapata.
Johanna Franco Zapata finished her preparatory course at the Instituto Buena Bista and has been working with the IBB since 2014 as a student advisor and artist. She was born in Colombia and has been living on Curaçao since 1993. Her work is concerned with the colonial past of Colombia and Curaçao. What is the Western perspective on the value of non-Western art? Is it connected with a Western feeling of superiority? In her work, Johanna explores and creates a new definition of the notion of value, one that is not coloured by a Western gaze. She does so by means of colourful paintings and murals that can be seen on Curaçao in the inner city of Willemstad and elsewhere.
Can you briefly tell us what you are working on at the moment?
I want to confront the public with the cruel practice of branding. In the past the plantation owners on Curaçao used to use red-hot branding irons to burn their initials permanently into the skin of their slaves. The person was stamped as property for life. My project has so far taken the form of a tattoo performance. By applying tattoos, I want to unbrand people. I want to leave a mark on someone’s skin that is essentially a source of pleasure and of their own worth instead of being a mark of humiliation.
How did you come to start on this project? It’s a pretty intense theme, what made you hit upon doing something with it?
We have a dark past, but we remain caught up in it too much and pay too little attention to moving on. The past is romanticised in a very negative way dominated by the victim. I think we should leave that past behind us. I try to tackle the history in a more fun and playful way.
How do you go to work, how do you know if the tattoo suits the person?
The works that I leave on a person arise from a discussion with this person about the history of branding and the traces that this trauma has left. After discussion of this aspect, I go into the consequences of this trauma in the form of mental slavery, and this often involves bringing up something unpleasant with which they experience it. Afterwards I go into the carefree moments of their childhood, when they felt that they were really free. On the basis of these stories I start on an abstract work in which I leave an open space in the shape of a tick.
Is there a reason why you choose a tick? Does it have a particular significance?
The tick is really a sign of regaining the value that we have lost. As a result of slavery, we lost our value. But today we are endlessly in search of possessions, status, career. We are searching for them like heroin.
Who do you tattoo and why?
The participants are not only Yu di Korsou (child of Curaçao). My project is not about colour, but about losing value. It goes further than the slave past. For instance, one of the women is a former porn actress. I am particularly interested in empowerment of the people who live on the margins and outside the rules. That is why I also like to work with people from Antes (care for addicts).
What makes this project the real you?
I want to unbrand people, but I actually leave a mark on them. Still I think it is different because they are doing it voluntarily. My work is always characterised by that duality, there is always a wink. I want to brighten up an intense story like branding. My condition for making work is that I must always enjoy doing it. It has to be something that makes me happy.
Anything else you would like to say?
The aim of this project is to mark people. I mark a positive idea on someone’s skin in the way that people colonise with a flag. This is already an accomplishment for me. It is a moment to convey a message: ‘Hey, you’re worth it too’.