Niizeki Hiromi

An artist pays respect to the victims of the Japanese tsunami with cute, heart-shaped gum wads.

Brooklyn artist Niizeki Hiromi loves bubblegum, just not in the normal way. She's only interested in gum once it's fallen out of someone's saliva-covered mouth and landed to the ground, where stomping feet flatten it into a variety of amorphous blobs. 

When Niizeki sees a piece of sidewalk gum, she'll scurry over to it and take a picture with her cellphone, a curious process recently detailed at the always-entertaining Spoon & Tamago. She's not looking for just any old wad, though – she specifically wants images of gum that's been shaped into cartoon hearts. These she takes back to her studio to turn into self-adhesive decals, called "GumHearts," which people can stick all over windows to replicate the scene of a drive-by spitting by Bazooka Joe:

(Niizeki Hiromi)

Fans of her work also have the option of wearing "GumHearts" temporary tattoos, like so:

And for the fashionista who has everything, she has crafted a line of wad bags:

Cataloging the former contents of New Yorkers' mouths is not just a weird hobby for the artist. There's real heart behind it: Through a Kickstarter campaign, she is hoping to stage an exhibit of "GumHearts" at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Queens, where it will serve as a reminder of the devastating 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. She explains:

If funded successfully, “LOVES” will be exhibited at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens, NY, from February to March, 2014, including Valentine’s day and March 11th, the 3rd anniversary of the massive earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Plant incident which have killed over 18,000 people in Northern Japan, where the majority of my family are from. I find this particular time of year to epitomize the reality of our life. Both drawing from the heartfelt and harsh ironies of our lives and directing our awareness to those things which embody both beauty+grit, bliss+sadness, pleasure+pain. Whatever happens, wherever you are, time goes by.

The artist currently has an international backing for her gum crusade, with people as far as Europe and Japan sending in photos of ABC nastiness. You can see the world's range of "GumHearts" on Facebook, which bear strangely poetic captions such as, "Very rare, such a fresh GumHeart from Japan. Jan. 28th, 2014. Yokohama, hatsune-cho, Under the train tracks. Finding dog poops around." You can even submit your own grimy capture there. Just don't mail Niizeki the real thing, please.

Images from Niizeki Hiromi on Kickstarter

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A Soviet map of London, labeled in Russian.

    The Soviet Military Secretly Mapped the Entire World

    These intricate, curious maps were supposed to be destroyed. The ones that remain reveal a fascinating portrait of how the U.S.S.R. monitored the world.

  2. A toxic site in Niagara Falls, New York, seen from above.

    The Toxic 'Blank Spots' of Niagara Falls

    The region’s “chemical genies” of the early 20th century were heralded as reaching into the future to create a more abundant life for all. Instead, they deprived future generations of their health and well-being.

  3. Equity

    The Story Behind the Housing Meme That Swept the Internet

    How a popular meme about neoliberal capitalism and fast-casual architecture owned itself.

  4. Equity

    The Othered Paris

    They’ve been called “no-go zones”—regions where no rules apply. To residents, they’re neighborhoods that are stigmatized and neglected. Why haven’t targeted policies to fix them had the intended effect?

  5. Navigator

    The Gentrification of City-Based Sitcoms

    How the future ‘Living Single’ reboot can reclaim the urban narrative ‘Friends’ ran off with.