While volunteering at a Catholic Church in Guatemala, I decided to use my free time to create a sculpture. I wanted to put together found objects that would reflect my understanding of the socio-economic context where I was living. As an artist in the U.S., I was used to collecting from a large variety of discarded items and converting them into artworks. However, the only discarded objects I could find on the streets of San Lucas were broken plastic shoes and squashed juice cans. I began collecting them on my walks to and from the clinic where the priest-in-charge had assigned me to paint stripes on the building.
After weeks of collecting squashed cans and broken shoes, I began to arrange them on a shelf outside my volunteer dorm room. One afternoon another volunteer ran up to me with a single shoe in her hand. “Look what I found for your shoe collection!” “Isn’t it cute!” I didn’t want to seem unappreciative so I accepted the shoe and placed it with the others.
Minutes later a woman approached me out of breath and visibly disturbed. She pointed to the new addition to my collection and pleaded with me for the shoe, which had fallen off of her sleeping child’s foot in the marketplace. When I handed her the shoe, she couldn’t get away fast enough. I could tell she didn’t see me as the selfless volunteer, but as the thief of baby shoes.
Author: Rebecca Cutter