The power and impact of the shoe and boot are unmistakable when chosen to represent the human condition. Sometime ago I was privileged to be invited to see an exhibition of shoes, children had decorated at a local infants’ school. The medium obviously caught the children’s imagination and the range of exhibits was fantastic with each one surpassing the other for originality. All too good to be singled out but the piece with a pair of overlapping court shoes, one painted in Aboriginal and the other in Iraq national colours epitomised the bond and friendship of the two originators, was outstanding.
Shoes and boots have been used to convey many human traits from those found in roofs and walls of medieval houses, to streets full of discarded shoes left by those escaping falling masonry, during September 11th. The former for luck and the latter for survival, humans place a lot more than their foot comfort in a pair of shoes.
At Auschwitz camp in Block 5 at the museum there is a display of shoes in a huge glass case that takes up half a barracks room. Other Holocaust Memorial Museums have taken a similar theme of a large pile of old shoes confiscated from prisoners. The size and smells of the leather fills the senses poignantly expressing both magnitude and depth of horror those who once proudly wore the shoes had to face. The impact is immense.
Togay and Gyula Pauer’s Shoes on the Danube is a memorial to the lives lost members of the Arrow Cross party rounded up Jewish civilians in 1945 and shot them. Sixty (60) pairs of iron shoes now line the river's bank.
Eyes Wide Open is an exhibit created by the American Friends Service Committee observing the American soldiers and marines that have died in the Iraq War. It contains a pair of combat boots to represent every American soldier and marine that has died in the war, as well as shoes representing Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives during the invasion and occupation. The exhibit was first shown in Chicago's Federal Plaza in January 2004. At that time, the exhibit contained 504 pairs of boots. As of March 2007, the national exhibit contained over 3,400 pairs of boots and had visited more than 100 cities in 40 states. However, as a result of its unmanageable size, the exhibit has been broken down state-by-state. Currently, nearly every state has its own state exhibit. The national exhibit in its entirety would currently contain more than 4,000 pairs of empty boots. Combat boots are not just personal but crucial for every soldier and a pair of empty boots is both a fitting memorial and a stark reminder of the human costs of this war. Each pair of boots were tagged with the deceased's name, rank and home state.
The 2,974 pairs of empty shoes presented at the Ocean Grove 9/11 memorial reflects the diversity of the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001
The Australian Road Safety Foundation's Fatality Free Friday campaign in 2012 was fourteen hundred pairs of shoes, representing the average number of people killed on Australian roads each year. The shoes were laid out Martin Place in Sydney on May 25, 2012.
To commemorate the deaths during the Japanese invasion of Jiangsu Province 6830 pairs of cloth shoes were laid out in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province for a memorial service.
In San Francisco 1,558 pairs of shoes to represent those who have jumped to their deaths from Golden Gate Bridge.
In Milan the victims of sexual violence are memorialized in hundreds of red shoes lining the streets. The red shoe collection was a public protest against violence on women.
To commemorate the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, 8,372 shoes were displayed at a square in Ankara. Funded and supported by the Ankara-based Association of young Bosnians and Ankara’s Keçiören Municipality.
As a memorial to the many thousands of people who have gone missing in Colombia artist Doris Salcedo’s Atrabiliarios seals shoes inside semi-opaque boxes and embeds them into gallery walls, making implicit reference to bodies bricked up inside a wall. Salcedo only reveals hints of the details of each pair of shoes, as they are partially obscured by a cow-bladder curtain. Clarity evades the audience, just as it evades the victims’ families. Each pair is displayed separately, expressing that each disappearance was a separate act, and yet over the exhibition space the number of separate boxes contributes to the sense that each disappearance was part of a much larger picture of Colombian political and social unease. The shoes are spaced apart in the gallery, as if Salcedo is imaging the loneliness that each victim must have felt in his or her final moments.
Following the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, and prior to the Global Climate Summit hundreds of empty pairs of shoes were placed on the streets downtown Paris to symbolise the canceled march environmental activists had planned to hold before climate change talks.
In 2016 in London, a sea of empty shoes filled the grounds outside the Department of Health, Whithall, representing the millions of uninsured people who die each year from treatable conditions. The "#MillionsMissing" protest was part of an international day of action highlighting the plight of untreated people and calling for more help and greater funding from governments. Activists remained completely silent, some wearing gags over their mouths, as they protested alongside the pairs of shoes . The empty footwear referenced the millions of people are missing from their careers, schools, social lives and families across the globe due to the debilitating symptoms of the disease.
The latest empty shoe memorial is on the ground in front of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Thousands of small shoes were placed there in memoriam of the estimated 7,000 children who have died from gun violence since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. The Monument for Our Kids, is part of an effort increase pressure on US Congress to pass additional gun control legislation. The shoes, all worn, were donated by thousands of people across The US. The shoe installation was created by Avaaz , is a global organization that coordinates demonstrations for progressive causes. The National School Walkout on the 14th March, was a World Wide call for students to leave their desks empty for 17 minutes to represent the 17 people who were fatally shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The March for our Lives on the 24th March 2018, is a larger demonstration against gun violence and is a collaboration between the student survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Everytown for Gun Safety.
Empty Shoe Memorials