104 Pairs of Shoes Exhibition

YWCA Scotland

In Britain 2 women die every week as a result of domestic violence
- 104 women die each year.

In August 2003, the Young Women's Christian Association Scotland (YWCA) has launched a major exhibition featuring 104 pairs of shoes, representing each women killed in a year. The shoes have been on display in public places throughout Scotland during the sixteen days campaign in November. Description:

The exhibition comprises 104 pairs of shoes, donated by Scottish women. Each pair is accompanied by the name and (in most cases) a photograph of the donor, alongside some of her own words to express why she supported the exhibition and why she donated this particular pair of shoes. Many of the donors are famous women - authors, actors, politicians etc. - and the shoes include two pairs which need secure display because of their intrinsic value. J. K. Rowling gave the Jimmy Choo shoes, with diamond star pattern, which she had worn for the premiere of the first Harry Potter film. She said: "I love them dearly, but they can do more supporting hundreds of women rather than one nervous, wobbling writer."

The 104 pairs of shoes represent the shocking statistic that in the United Kingdom, two women each week are killed by their current or former partners. The shoes stand empty in the exhibition, placed on the floor as if they were walking, so that as visitors follow them around the space, reading the quotations alongside, it is as if they are ‘walking in the footsteps' of the women who have died as a result of domestic violence. For many of the visitors, this is a profoundly moving experience.

The exhibition has been presented in several venues around Scotland since it first opened in Edinburgh's City Art Centre on 25 November 2002, UN designated Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and within the first year, it was seen by just over 2,300 people. The YWCA also managed to arrange substantial press coverage of the first opening, including articles in four national newspapers, followed by local coverage relating to all the other venues. During the Edinburgh International Festival in the Summer of 2003 it was hosted by St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in the city. In those two weeks, over 1,000 people visited the exhibition, including Cathedral clergy and congregation members and hundreds of visitors, and many of these wrote comments in a specially provided book. The Cathedral's Vice Provost, Rev Canon Jane Millard, also preached a sermon relating to the 104 Pairs of Shoes on one of the Sundays that the exhibition was in place.

How it was done:

Nine months before the first exhibition of the 104 Pairs of Shoes, YWCA Scotland wrote to 180 famous Scottish women asking for their support. At this stage, they were asked simply to commit to the idea of donating a pair of shoes, providing a photograph, and writing a few words, although if they were able to respond immediately with everything this was warmly welcomed. All the women who contributed to the exhibition were told they could have the shoes back afterwards if they so desired - the rest are to be auctioned at a future date in aid of work with women victims of domestic violence. In addition to the prominent women invited to contribute, shoes were also sought from significant YWCA members, including the World YWCA President of the time, and from women who have experienced domestic violence. These latter were sourced through the main UK NGO to work with and provide services for abused women - Women's Aid.

Nearer the time of the exhibition, those women who had committed to it but had not yet sent their shoes etc. were contacted again with a reminder. More than 104 pairs of shoes would eventually be needed, especially since this has now become a traveling exhibition and some of the original shoes have had to be returned to their owners. Each pair of shoes was given a number, written on the soles of the shoes, and this same number marked on the donor's details. The photographs were each mounted on card, above the quotations from the donor, typed in large print, and each card laminated to make it durable. There was also a table, with information about the YWCA, and a book in which visitors could write comments on and thoughts arising from the exhibition. This book became a very important part of the exhibition.

For the exhibition in St Mary's Cathedral, once agreement in principle had been given, the venue was visited to assess the display space available. By coincidence, the space chosen for the exhibition was the - entirely appropriate - Resurrection Chapel. Opening times for the exhibition, which were to be published in one of the main Edinburgh Festival brochures, were agreed carefully so as to avoid visitors wandering in during services.

Prior to the arrival of the 104 Pairs of Shoes, an article was published in the Cathedral's monthly magazine advertising the exhibition, and making explicit the relevance of such a display to the Christian faith and to the important contribution churches can make to overcoming violence against women. Reminders about the exhibition (which was not immediately visible from the Cathedral nave) were given at services during the time the Shoes were in place. The Vice Provost's sermon was also a significant contributor to these efforts to ensure the Cathedral's own congregation were included in those who were touched by the 104 Pairs of Shoes.

Some of the pictures taken at the exhibition in St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh: