The project began in 2013 - in 2012 I was commissioned by Women’s Aid, in partnership with Grey London Advertising, to create installation artwork for their ‘Cabinet of Dreams’ valentines fundraising campaign, and I thought that there was more that I could do for the cause than make a one-off artwork. I am a visual artist and an experienced art facilitator and had run workshops with vulnerable groups. At the time I was working on huge fairy-tale dresses made from paper, and thought that somehow I could utilise my skills and merge the two. The next six months were spent developing the idea, creating a workshop programme and fine tuning aspects of the project. I raised money through a crowdfunding campaign to fund a two month nationwide tour of workshops in refuges and the project was up and running! We had our first exhibition in 2014 and had touching feedback from visitors. Six months ago we became a fully constituted charity with a board of trustees and have now received funding for ‘Chapter II’ of the Little Paper Slipper – I would like to add a quick thank you to all the people who have helped me with this project along the way, and its supporters.
Where did the name ‘Little Paper Slipper’ come from?
It stems from the story of Cinderella, which was originally called ‘The Little Glass Slipper’. The underlying theme is the image of Cinderella, who in her monochrome ashes never lost her hope or sense of what is fair. The fairy-tale portrays repossessing a negative aspect of society and, through imagination, turning it into something beautiful – which is reflected in the project through the way the women draw on their experience of domestic abuse to creative positive and empowering works of art.
Why did you choose to use paper art? Do you find this is an easily accessibly material to work with?
I initially thought to use it as I was working with paper at the time I conceived the project. From there, I thought about the fact that paper is familiar to all people and is not exclusive as an art material. The hope is that people can be less afraid to approach making art with it than other materials, as most people have made something with paper before. There is a practical element too – paper is a cheap material, which means I can leave workshop materials with the women so that they can make the paper shoes with their children after the workshops are over. The qualities are important too – paper has a fragility, but when put through a process can actually become very strong, which really resonates with the project.
How many refuges have you visited so far? How large was the first exhibition?
So far I have held 22 workshops in nine different locations across England. The first exhibition of shoe installations included 56 women’s artwork. Chapter II will comprise of 20 more workshops in 10 different refuges across London, with the next exhibition showcasing an installation of over 150 little paper slippers – made by 150 women – at Islington Arts Factory (opens 23rd September 2016).
What do you feel is the most important thing the women get out of the charity?
A creative voice: domestic abuse is about power, control, and the act of limiting another’s voice. Little Paper Slipper offers women who have experienced that a means to find their creative expression and use it to speak out. Through participating, they know they are doing something about the problem, raising awareness, and sending a message to the wider community. Women who have received domestic abuse support commonly express a desire to give something back, and the project offers that platform, and thereby the opportunity to turn a negative experience into a positive, empowering force.
Also importantly, but yet something which seems so simple, is that I want the women to enjoy themselves. I want them to have fun, to connect with each other, to feel good about themselves, and to laugh. In every single workshop on this project the women have really enjoyed making the shoes, even if the journey of making the shoe can be somewhat emotional. There is a freedom and joy in the experience. Art is a powerful cathartic process.
When the women’s artwork is presented to the public it turns each woman into an activist by showing her creation to the world. The exhibition serves to raise awareness about domestic abuse, but more than this it can also speak to and move people on a personal level by bringing them into direct contact with the women’s voices, which can challenge preconceptions and break the culture of silent acceptance. The result is that visitors to the exhibitions find themselves feeling surprised, touched, informed, and changed. Therefore it is not only the women who benefit, but also the public.
Do you feel as though women’s rights and domestic abuse is being talked about enough/ more than it used to be?
I think it is, which is positive in some ways, but the negative aspect of this is that it still even needs to be talked about, meaning that the problems still exist. We seem to be still fighting for rights that were fought for fifty years ago, which doesn’t exactly feel like progress.
I think domestic abuse is discussed more, and in a different light to how it used to be, but it is still viewed as a taboo subject that people can feel very uncomfortable talking about. Part of what the Little Paper Slipper aims to do is to try and break these taboos, by getting people talking about it openly. 1 in 4 women in England and Wales experience domestic abuse in their lifetimes, with 1.4 million experiencing it in 2013/14 alone, which included 85 murders. Part of the problem is the extent to which domestic abuse, despite its prevalence, remains a hidden crime. Over 65% of incidents go unreported and all too often women who have experienced it also report feelings of shame and being judged, both of which pose barriers to reaching out. It is therefore crucial to raise awareness, and challenge a culture in which it is too easy to accept its existence or blame the victim. This requires expanding our understanding of what domestic abuse is, recognising its harms, and listening to women who have been affected.
What hopes and aspirations do you have for the future of the charity?
The hope is that there will one day be no need for our charity! Unfortunately I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future, so our plans are to continue the work we are doing across Britain over the next 10 years, by building our collection of shoes to hundreds and then thousands.
During that time hopefully we can venture even further afield, with projects outside the UK to include women from all over the world. In 2018 we will be publishing a book about the project that will be distributed to women’s resource centres and libraries, with an e-book also available online to add a geographically unrestricted and permanently accessible dimension to the project.
by Lizzie Scourfield