In an East London gallery in 2014 rows of white papier mâché slippers hang from the ceiling. Together they form an army, but no two are the same - they each bear individual markings, customised with words, drawings or paper accessories. One shoe’s side displays a simple line drawing of a prison adjacent to a collection of sombre words: ‘hate’, lonely’, ‘intimidated’. Another holds the message ‘Today my life begins’.
In 2013 Hackney-based artist Marie-Louise Jones started Little Paper Slipper, a charity with the aim of giving a creative voice to women affected by domestic abuse and making that voice heard. The idea came to Marie-Louise when she was commissioned by domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid to create installation artwork for their ‘Cabinet of Dreams’ Valentine’s fundraising campaign, and came away feeling as though she wanted to do more for the cause. At the time she was working on huge fairy-tale dresses made from paper, and by deciding to merge the two projects the idea was formed.
Through the charity Marie-Louise runs art workshops in women’s refuges across the UK where the women create papier mâché shoes and customise them with things they want to express. Whilst the idea to use paper initially came from Marie-Louise’s previous art project, the idea developed not only as paper is an accessible and familiar art material, but also through the concept that the qualities of paper has a fragility which when put through a process can become very strong. This resonates with the message of the workshops: domestic abuse is about power, control and the act of limiting another’s voice, and Little Paper Slipper hopes to offer the women who have experienced this a means to find their creative expression and speak out, thus putting the power back in their hands.
“[the workshop] made me feel good about myself and powerful, you made me smile and feel normal.”
More than this, the workshops are intended as a place for the women to enjoy themselves. One workshop participant commented that “[the workshop] made me feel good about myself and powerful, you made me smile and feel normal.” But the work doesn’t end within the workshops – the slippers will become part of public exhibitions which serve to raise awareness about domestic abuse. Charity Living Without Abuse asserts that domestic abuse will affect 1 in 4 women in their lifetime, with statistics from Women’s Aid reporting that domestic abuse-related crime accounts for 8% of total crime, and that on average the police receive an emergency call relating to domestic abuse every 30 seconds. The numbers are startling, but they can’t necessarily reach people on a personal level. By presenting a direct voice of women affected by domestic abuse, the slippers hope to go beyond facts and figures and speak to people emotionally. The slippers are intended as a seed: first they grow through the creation of the artwork as a cathartic and empowering process, before they continue to blossom and strengthen from the connection to the visitors who experience the artwork.
And the name? Beyond the literal creation of the paper slippers, it stems from the story of Cinderella which was originally titled ‘The Little Glass Slipper’. The fairy-tale portrays repossessing a negative aspect of society and, through imagination, turning it into something beautiful, similar to how the women draw on their experience of domestic abuse to creative positive and empowering works of art.
Charity Living Without Abuse asserts that domestic abuse will affect 1 in 4 women in their lifetime
A recent launch event for the next exhibition featured a charity auction of slippers customised by professional artists. Gavin Turk, Molly Parkin, Lauren Baker and John Claridge were among those to put their name and time to the paper creations, with the event raising over £3000. For a small charity this money provides essential funds in order to cover costs for workshop facilitation and materials, transport, and even childcare fees so that women with children can participate in the workshops.
Chapter I - the first and only exhibition so far - featured 56 women’s artwork. The upcoming Chapter II exhibition in September is set to include over 150 little paper slippers made by 150 women. The army of shoes is growing, and it’s taking back its long-deserved power.
Little Paper Slipper Chapter II exhibition runs 23rd-30th September at Islington Arts Factory.