Northampton Exhibition - The World at Your Feet
Shoes are worn by people across the world to express their identity and cultural background. The World at your Feet exhibition showcased shoes from the world footwear collection from Northampton Museum and Art Gallery which includes over 1000 pairs of shoes from across the world.
Visitors were encouraged to check in their shoes and join the museum for a journey across the world exploring how people select their shoes and how shoe traditions are symbolically involved in key moments in people's lives including birth, coming of age, marriage and death.
Children are often seen as needing physical and spiritual protection up until the period when they come of age within society. This takes many forms across the world including marking shoes worn by children with protective symbols. Tigers, a symbol of power and bravery, adorn Chinese shoes warding off evil from young boys.
Coming of Age marks a young person's transition from childhood to adulthood and across the world significant cultural ceremonies are conducted to mark maturity. Fashion and footwear are often used as a form of personal expression during coming of age rituals and thereafter. In the USA and Latin America the wearing of heeled shoes represents a girl's elevated status to the world of womanhood.
Many cultures have celebrations confirming the union of two people where special celebration shoes are worn. In some cultures these are associated with luck and fertility. Greek traditions include writing the names of the bride's friends on the soles of her shoes - the names of the people that remain at the end of the night will be married next. Many shoe traditions are concerned with passing control of the bride from the father to the husband, for example an Indian tradition includes shoes with silver bells so a wife can be easily located.
In some cultures special shoes are worn in death protecting the individual and supporting the spirit on its journey. In other cultures it is those in mourning that symbolically wear specific footwear.
Climate and materials have heavily influenced shoe design and continue to do so today. People living in hot climates tend to wear sandals to protect their feet and keep them cool whilst shoes in cold climates are adapted for warmth. Traditionally people have used materials that are available in these climates; however trade, the rise of global fashion and the development of modern materials have extended the opportunity to use a wide range of different materials.
Cultural factors have a strong influence on shoe design. Religion and religious practice heavily influences shoe design across the world, including the materials shoes are made from, how they are made and how they enable people to follow religious practice. Some religious texts also include symbolism around shoes.
For some cultures shoes play an important role in their society and no self respecting cowboy would be without his boots. Shoes are a visible indicator of status amongst people and often the more a shoe restricts movement, creating a dependency on servants or paid staff, the more affluent the owner.
The exhibition also included responses to the collection from local Northampton communities who commented on how the migration of different cultures has influenced practice in the UK.
The World at Your Feet exhibition also featured loans from The Royal Palaces, various museums and the community.
ArtReach is the Regional Coordinator for the Dress the World project. To visit ArtReach's website, please click here