Katherine Li Johnson

Show & Tell

Katherine Li Johnson

For our new installment of Show and Tell, art dealer and creative strategist Katherine Li Johnson talks about the full lockdown in Tunisia, how she's spending her time alone (naked, like the rest of us), and the little things she does throughout the day to feel connected to friends and loved ones that now feel farther away than ever.

Katherine Li Johnson


I live in Tunis, so I've been staying at home for a while now. Italy is really close, so when things started getting really bad over there, the Tunisian government responded by closing the borders, and implementing a curfew. Then we went into full lockdown: we can't the leave the house unless we're in need of serious necessities, like food and medicine, and there are some exceptions for work but it’s fuzzy to me because my Arabic isn’t great and I can’t understand most of the words in the announcements. The military is on patrol making sure people respect the rules, and a few of my friends that were here during the Revolution in 2011 tell me that this is kind of what it was like back then too. But I think it's also important for me to maintain a sense of perspective. A friend of mine sent me a clip of Joe Rogan's show two days ago, and he mentions how the restrictive circumstances in a lot of first world cities (in response to Coronavirus) reflect what regular life is like for a lot of people around the world: restrictions of movement, the lack of freedom to travel, not being able to buy what you want at the grocery store. For some people, it's much worse. In the first world we were just oblivious to it, and ignoring it for such a long time. But it's in our face now, and I guess we have to see how we deal with it.

Katherine Li Johnson

I don't make coffee at home, because I kind of suck at it and always burn it. I'm much more familiar with tea. So I start my day with tea in the morning: a really delicious and kind of expensive Pu-Erh that my aunt Elizabeth in Hong Kong gifted me. I always put it in this crappy little tin, because it's airtight and I like that it says "tea" in Chinese, French, and English. My aunt also gifted me this little teapot, so I use this throughout the day to brew the tea: I drink about six cups a day. The decorative cup is from this woman in Peng Chau, it's an island off of Hong Kong; she's one of the few people in Hong Kong that still paints Cantonese-style ceramics, so I've been collecting her work for years. I miss my mom and family a lot, and I don't know when I'm going to be able to fly to Hong Kong at this point, so it's nice to have these things with me in Tunis that remind me of home and family, and Cantonese rituals. 


The past few days have been really strange; I've been burning a lot of palo santo to ward off all the virus demons, and also I just like the smell. I pivot between answering e-mails, to finding creative ways to make painting shipments happen on time, to contemplating the impending collapse of society, and then eventually I take a bath. Last night after my bath I ate pasta and sardines, and inhaled a beer and then fell asleep. I’m glad I live in the Mediterranean because there’s such a wonderful food culture that’s really comforting when I feel indulgent or melancholic. I don't know how anyone is maintaining a normal schedule in the midst of this thing; I feel like I’m spending a lot of time eating, masturbating, and cuddling with my cat.


I've been walking around my house naked a lot, because no one is coming over and I don't know when I'm leaving, so I figure it's a good time to air out my vagina or whatever. I've been trying to organize things in my house, and found a bunch of stuff from friends (does anyone remember friends?)... a zine that my friend Dana gave me like two years ago, a postcard that my friend Glori left me when she came to visit in 2018, my friend Olivia's plane ticket when she flew here from London, and a photo of me that my friend Johnny took on my last trip to LA. Theres so much stuff that normally feels like clutter that I'm so thankful to have now; I'll probably build a shrine to my friends on Quarantine Week 3. 

 Katherine Li Johnson

Not that this an object, but something that I really treasure now that I'm confined to my house is time outside. I can’t go for runs anymore (I went on two while we had a curfew), so I finally made it up to my rooftop after living here for two years; I had to climb up from the balcony off of my bedroom. I’m thinking this can be the quarantine setting for sunset cocktails and lunches on a warm day.


Most of the pieces I wear day-to-day were passed down from my grandmothers, aunts, and my mom. I wear almost all of this every day, and I’m kind of annoyed that I lost these platinum hoops my mom gave me when I was 14. I love this little jade ring that sits on top of my ring finger knuckle, it was a gift from my Aunt Vicki. This Taurus necklace is a gift from my friend Dora’s mom when she visited from Finland. I’m fascinated with astrology lately, because I feel like it has permeated the zeitgeist in a way that transcends religion, at least for millennials. 


I feel like the mix of reasonable amounts of comfort and heightened uncertainty breeds a lot of thoughts that one wouldn’t have under more normal circumstances, when you’re married to your regular obligations. And right now there aren’t really many negative repercussions for doing strange things instead of doing things you’re supposed to do. So I’ve been daydreaming about my post-apocalypse personalities, like wondering what versions of me exist in a world that’s slightly more Star Wars. Would my cat be my trusted sidekick? Also, Star Wars was filmed in the Tunisian Sahara, so perhaps this fictional version of me manifests itself as a result of my current geography. When I’m done braiding my hair I read Henry Miller’s The Cosmological Eye, which I found at Iliad Bookshop in The Valley. And these are my mom’s glasses from the 70s; I had them fitted with my prescription and I wear them because my optometrist tells me that my corneas are stressed out. 



Follow Katherine on Instagram.



We grapple with consumerism everyday – we are a store that sells stuff that hates waste and too much stuff. So you can imagine the collective cognitive dissonance brewing around the KB office. Our mission, for ourselves and for our store, is to dial back the urge to consume mindlessly and voraciously for no other purpose than to own lots of stuff. The opposite of a throw-away culture – a society that feels connected enough to what they own to keep it, keep it nice, and pass it on. More simply put, people save things when they feel connected to them. For our new series, Show and Tell, we’re taking a different approach to the classic Q&A and asking friends, family and followers to introduce us to some of their things, and through those things learning a lot about the person behind the piece.


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