Lyman Allyn exhibit highlights Safe Futures' work with "In Their Shoes"
When is a pair of size 14 Nikes not just a pair of sneakers? Or a set of pink patent leather sling-backs more than just fancy party shoes? Or a tiny pair of Koala sneakers more than just covering for a baby’s toes?
When you learn each pair represents men, women and children who were fleeing domestic violence or sexual assault and sought help at the local emergency shelter last year.
On display in the Lyman Allyn Art Museum’s Glassenberg Gallery is a labyrinth of 170 pairs of foot-wear in a new installation called “In Their Shoes.” Artists Pamela Pike Gordinier of Stonington and Julia Pavone, co-founder of the Alexey von Schlippe Gallery in Groton, have created a concept exhibit that highlights the realities and consequences of domestic violence as well as the work done at Safe Futures in New London, a non-profit shelter and refuge for those fleeing domestic abuse.
Gordinier, who believes a community can create art together, came up with the idea of shoes representing the victims of domestic violence after attending a fundraiser for Safe Futures. She was overcome by the stories of those who faced their fears and sought help to get away from violence and abuse. The shoes, she said, are a metaphor for new beginnings.
“I was thinking a pair of shoes can represent hope,” Gordinier said in a recent telephone interview. “When I want to feel I can do something new, I feel better if I have have a new outfit on. I imagine a different world.”
Safe Futures, the former Women’s Center in New London that is celebrating its 40th anniversary in the city, began collecting used shoes for the exhibit, but Gordinier said she had a hard time preparing them for the show.
“I was scrubbing and polishing, and I realized these objects have memories. I wanted this to be about a new start,” she said.
To that end, she began collecting new shoes. Stonington High School students collected and donated more than 70 pairs. All the shoes will be donated to Safe Futures when the exhibit is over.
The shoes are displayed in the gallery on a labyrinth of sailcloth. Each pair represents a person who was helped by Safe Futures last year, but there is no text to match the shoes. Visitors have to imagine what it must be like for a woman in a pair of leopard high heels, or one in running shoes, to walk into the shelter and ask for help. They must feel what life must have been like for the more than 25 children — represented by tiny sneakers, sandals, baby booties — who benefited because an adult was brave enough to seek help.
As visitors wind their way through the shoes, an audio with ethereal music asks the question “What do you hope for?” The voices of victims respond.
“I hope I can one day say I am beautiful and not doubt myself,” one says.
“I hope one day Safe Futures can close its doors,” says another.
On the walls are three acrylic paintings by Gordinier that transpose the word HOPE over words like FEAR and DENIAL. There’s also an archway of shoe boxes and items from the shelter, like a hairbrush and children’s toys, all painted white. Visitors are asked to write down their hopes and put them in a box.
“It’s an archway of hope,” Gordinier said. “Almost an altar.”
Poet Lana Orphanides also has a poem on display called “An Exchange of Grace” that talks about a safe place where you can “... take a new step, you, your child, your mother, Here is a place to lay your head, to place your shoes.”
The exhibit, which is on display through July 30, also includes a short film created by Connecticut College students called “Out of the Shadows.” It explores, through dance, the emotions of dealing with domestic abuse.
“What I love about this is that the community is a part of it,” Gordinier said.
In a prepared statement, Pavone said, "Throughout history artists have used their ability to reach a large number of people as a platform for social change. To bring to the forefront this often-silent issue and perhaps help the public gain a better understanding of the victims of abuse ... has made this project a very rewarding experience."
Susan Noyes, community resources coordinator and a member of the board at Safe Futures, said when she and the staff saw the shoes lined up in the gallery, they saw the eyes of every client they had helped during the year.
"It's a very powerful visual," she said. "Domestic violence crosses every line."
The exhibit is a way to reach a new audience and let them know there is help nearby in New London, she said.
"In Their Shoes" is part of the museum’s “Near::New” series, which highlights contemporary artists who work in the area.
Although the exhibit is not the traditional two-dimensional display that is usually on the walls in the Glassenberg Gallery, Lyman Allyn Director Samuel Quigley said the museum “strongly supports” the artwork and its message.
“You walk in there, and you can’t help but be taken up by it,” he said. “There are a lot of layers of meaning. Everyone gets it right away.”
If you go
What: "In Their Shoes"
Where: Lyman Allyn Art Museum, 625 Williams St., New London
When: Through July 30; hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and 1-5 p.m. Sun.
Admission: $10 adults; $7 seniors, students over 18, active military personnel; $15 students under 18; free for kids under 12, memebrs, New London residents
What: Dance performance by L’Ana Burton, music by Glenn Hardy and poetry readings by Lana Orphanides, Edwina Trentham, John L. Stanizzi and Rhonda Ward
When: 5-7 p.m. Wednesday
Contact: (860) 443-2545, lymanallyn.org
To make a donation to Safe Futures, go to www.safefuturesCT.org