Women and Shoes – The Concept in Conceptual Art

No, it’s not about Imelda Marcos (you still remember her?). Or Princess Diana, who probably made Jimmy Choo’s career by ordering dozens of pairs of his exceedingly comfortable flats in all different colors.

The shoes I am thinking of are used by artists Doris Salcedo (b. 1958, Colombia) and Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929, Japan) in their installations. Why do the two woman artists, born a generation and continents apart, use shoes in their work? And these works are haunting – they are still vivid in my mind after many years.

Doris  Salcedo, who has just been awarded the Valasquez Prize in Spain, and Kusama , who is currently enjoying a great popularity  both use shoes to depict absence of the wearer.  Salcedo’s   Atrabiliarias (1992) ,  showed shoes of women who had disappeared under a repressive regime, shoes she collected from the victims’ families. She displayed each in its own precious wall-mounted  case,  with a veil. Kusama’s 1963 Aggregation: One Thousand Boat  Show , showed a lone high- heeled shoe in an abandoned live-size boat completely covered with bristling fabric phalluses.  Kusama’s was of course made in the feminist 60s New York city. And Salcedo’s is about military dictatorship in her home country. Both are about artificial boundaries of power and their silenced victims.

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