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I Have Fears Exhibit Makes A Case For Empathy

                                                             Hannah Johnston ‘20 at her exhibit I Have Fears, on view at the Horn Gallery from September 15-22    

Last Friday, I walked down the stairs of the Horn gallery, turned the corner and was confronted with the phrase “I’ve hurt the people that I love.” It was spelled out in turquoise thread on a simple grey t-shirt with no immediate explanation or accompanying illustration. The words were just there; unobtrusively, yet solidly declaring their existence. The shirt is one among twenty other embroidered tees currently hanging up along the walls of the gallery as part of Hannah Johnston’s first Horn exhibit, I Have Fears, which opened on September 15th and will run until the 22nd.

The show “explores weakness and vulnerability as it pertains to fear,” according to the college’s website, as each piece features one of the artist’s fears sewn into a t-shirt. The fears range from concerns about personal relationships (“I care about people who don’t care about me”) to anxieties about the future (“My life will become a compromise”). Each phrase is embroidered in a bright color in the center of a shirt, calling direct attention to worries that most people keep hidden. By placing her fears on clothing, Johnston shows that she doesn’t want to ignore the thoughts that scare her. Instead, Johnston takes ownership of them, offering them willingly to the wider world.                                                                                                    “I care about people who don’t care about me”

At the same time, Johnston recognizes that these fears can still place restraints on her. The phrases are often lop-sided, sewn on in shaky, scrawled out letters that suggest uncertainty. Johnston is not brandishing her fears to show how she has overcome them, but to show how she must always live with them. The fact that they are written on cotton t-shirts also speaks to the everyday nature of fear, that the insecurities we have stay with us as we try to go about our daily lives.                                                                                            Michael Fisher and Jess Lane view Johnston’s work

As I walked around the exhibit, I found myself relating to so many of the fears I saw around me. They reminded me of my own experiences, causing me to recall times in my life when I had felt lonely, hopeless, lost and completely unsure of myself. I thought about the anxieties I have mostly gotten over and also the ones I definitely haven’t, the ones that keep me up until 2 AM on an endless loop. I realized that even though I don’t know anything about Johnston’s life experiences, there were a number of shirts on the walls that I could easily wear, and that is where the genius of this exhibition lies.

By placing her deepest worries on something as common and accessible as a t-shirt, Johnston invites her viewers to try on her fears while also asking them to embrace their own. Johnston wants the exhibit to be collaborative, as there are comment boxes placed around the room for viewers to leave personal reflections. She shows us that carrying around our anxieties can seem daunting, but it’s important to share them with others and let them know that they are not alone. I Have Fears is a phenomenal exhibit that testifies to the idea that wearing your heart on your sleeve is not always a bad thing, and that empathy goes a long way.                                                                                                                    Opening night of I Have Fears


Image Credits: Vahni Kurra


Vahni is a sophomore English major and writer for Her Campus Kenyon. She is an associate at Gund Gallery, junior editor at Hika literary magazine and an intern at the Kenyon Review. Vahni grew up in Muncie, Indiana and Columbus, Ohio, so she is a good corn-fed gal. When she is not singing the praises of Beyoncé and Zadie Smith, she is attempting to write fiction, watching old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and exploring book stores with her friends and family.
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