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The art is in the truth-telling of ‘The Strangers Project’

December 28, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
The first exhibition of "The Strangers Project" features a selection of anonymous journal entries written by strangers around New York and around the world. People are asked to write about whatever they want - as long as it's true.
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MARTIN FLETCHER: They pass like strangers in the night – they are strangers in the night.

Until 48th and 9th in Manhattan, where we recently came across an unusual exhibit at the Fountain Art Gallery.  It asked people: What’s your story?

It said: Slow down a moment. Write something from your life.  It’s all part of the “The Strangers Project” that began four years ago.

Many people writing things that are hard to say aloud…or to someone you know … or a friend … or family.

Like:

Today is my father’s birthday, he is 49, some few years ago (at least ten) he shot a man.  He shot a man that died maybe ten years ago on his birthday…. Happy birthday Daddy, I love you. Forgive yourself.  I do.

MARTIN FLETCHER:  The Strangers Project volunteers ask people to write their story – even if at first they don’t think they have one. So far the founder

Brandon Doman has collected seven thousand intimate moments. Getting people to share, anonymously, maybe to relieve themselves of a burden. To find common ground – even with strangers.

For Doman, it’s a form of art. Getting people to pay attention to each other.

BRANDON DOMAN:  I think we have a really big desire to be heard.  We have a lot of ways to sort of broadcast nowadays with social media and all that’s great, I think.  But I think we– there’s sort of a deficit in just feeling emotionally heard sometimes.

MARTIN FLETCHER:  Timothy Tobias from Brooklyn wrote about Trayvon Martin, an issue he’d been thinking a lot about.

TIMOTHY TOBIAS: It was therapeutic for me in that sense. It gives you a sense of someone’s listening, right, even though these are strangers, right?

MARTIN FLETCHER:  Yes strangers, but each story makes them feel a little bit less alone.  Like this lady from the Bronx:

Born in the Bronx, mom remarried 3 times.  Her husband was abusive and made life very difficult.  Had a boyfriend for 5 years from 15-20 years old who also abused me but I loved him dearly …I hope everything will be ok soon.  My past haunts me. 

And this:

My partner might be homeless in a few months.  I am going to stay with her no matter what, but I am worried about what my friends and family will say.  It’s not her fault.  And I can’t just stop being in love.

MARTIN FLETCHER: The show hung about five hundred notes – some tragic, some comic, some confused … but all from the heart and each one a reminder to the gallery manager, Ariel Willmott.

ARIEL WILLMOTT: You know, you sit on the subway every day and there’s a mother screaming at her child and you’re like, oh god, I wish this mother would stop. But you know, if you take a moment to think, well, who knows what her day or what her life looks like — you know, everybody has a story.”

MARTIN FLETCHER:  Like this one –

I’m mourning the loss of my kids being little.

Here, An eighteen-year-old girl counts the boys she’s slept with – sixteen. And one girl.  And one threesome, too.

Some reveal their pain through drawings. through the tears someone quotes the poet, ‘the world is not made out of atoms. It is composed of tiny stories.’

BRANDON DOMAN: You know, yeah, you don’t need to write a lot of words to tell a story. This was a gentleman who walked by and asked what I was doing and I explained the project to him. He was probably in his sixties. And we talked for a few minutes, and then he decided to walk off. And about twenty minutes later he came back. And he asked if he could share something. And I said, of course, that’s why I’m here. And it’s just a single line, and he just wrote “I am surviving brain cancer. So far.” And I feel like there’s just so much in that, you know. Two little sentences on one line.

MARTIN FLETCHER:  Calls for help? For attention? Relieving pain by baring the soul? Brandon Doman says it best.

BRANDON DOMAN: I think we should be more emotionally open, and I think this is a good way for people to practice that.”

MARTIN FLETCHER:  Healing our world – story by story.