Chido Johnson Brings 'Love Library' Project to Zygote Press

click to enlarge Amber Esner’s Love Library submission, “Unconditional”
Amber Esner’s Love Library submission, “Unconditional”
Growing up in Zimbabwe, Chido Johnson spent his childhood reading whatever he could get his hands on. Fatefully, the small library of Johnson’s rural mission had an abundance of romance novels.

After leaving Zimbabwe, Johnson’s Love Library project was conceived while the artist was living and teaching in Sweden. By the time he came to the U.S., Johnson says love was not in the air. Political tensions around the Gaza Strip, for example, were dividing neighbors, and Johnson responded strongly to what he saw as society’s ability to homogenize the affected individuals by referring to them as “these people.” Turning to art, and specifically his Love Library, Johnson sought to root us back to experiencing life, humanity and love directly, rather than being passively fed information from a computer or television screen.

Inspired by the romance novels of his childhood library, Chido Johnson’s Love Library is an ongoing, collaborative art project that has traveled to venues in Rochester, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Indianapolis and Lawrence, as well as Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. In each city, Johnson collaborates with a local “Love Librarian” who selects the artists to create original works of art by altering books using the traditional Harlequin Romance Novel as a template.

Opening with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. this Friday, Jan. 13, Johnson’s latest Love Library is hosted by Zygote Press and co-curated by local “Love Librarians” Sarah Kabot and Liz Maugans.

“Zygote is thrilled to bring Love Library to Cleveland and invite artists we adore to represent in this chapter of affection and love,” says Zygote Press Executive Director Liz Maugans. “The collective energy and the ongoing traveling and growing embodiment of love in these altered books is key to the collaborative, open spirit of Zygote.”

Participating artists include: Rian Brown, Kristen Cliffel, Hadley Conner, Dana Depew, Amber Esner, Evan Fusco, John G, Val Grossman, Jake Hatmaker, James Klein & David Reid, Sarah Rose Lejeune, Dave Lucas, Anthony Mastromatteo, Liz Maugans, Loren Naji, Sarah Paul, Jessica Pinsky, Matt Rowe, Corrie Slawson & Ira Lefkowitz, Breanne Tramell, Nanette Yannuzzi, Justin Will and Nikki Woods. Additionally, library archives featuring the work of artists from other “chapters” (cities) will be on view as well.

In February, Zygote Press has two events planned in support of the exhibition. First: Let’s Make, with love… on Thursday, Feb. 9 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Zygote invites guests to join in the love-making with opportunities to print T-shirts, Valentine’s Day cards, coasters and even chocolates, as well as a chance to write sonnets with Cleveland Arts Prize award-winning poet Dave Lucas. Music for the event is provided by artist and DJ Marcus Brathwaite. A benefit for Zygote Press, the event offers a variety of ways to “show your love” for the non-profit organization, including chocolates by Sweet Designs, hennas by Alexis Hedderson and massages by Gina Matteucci and more.

Tickets to Let’s Make, with love… are $28 per person or $50 per couple for non-members or $20 per person or $34 per couple for Zygote Press members. Admission includes a Love Library Bookmark, a drink ticket and a box of candy hearts to start conversations with your fellow guests.

From 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25, Zygote Press hosts a small Soup and Share Potluck closing event with artist from the Cleveland Chapter of the Love Library, who will be discussing their work in the gallery.

Love Library: Let’s Talk About Love remains on view at Zygote Press through Feb. 25 during regular business hours: Wednesday and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., or by appointment.

(Zygote Press) 1410 E. 30th St., 216-621-2900,

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