Putting the shoe on the other foot – or putting experience before beauty

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Moesgaard Museum’s ethnographic collections boasts a great number of fantastical footwear from all over the world! Many of these beautiful shoes have been featured in great numbers on ethnographica, and soon even more – more than 230 different pairs of shoes to be exact – will be making it onto display with the upcoming exhibition ‘Alverdens sko – en udstilling om folk og fodtøj’ (‘Shoes from all over the world – an exhibition about folks and footwear’), which opens on the 28thof September 2019. The exhibition will feature the awe-inspiring personal collection of shoes collected by zoologist Søren Tuxen who collected shoes in all shapes, colours and forms from all the places he visited during his lifetime.

‘Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’ typically allows you, the new wearer, to see and experience what life might be like from a completely different perspective. Søren Tuxen himself believed much was to learn about people from what they put on their feet. Shoes, accordingly, should thus hold a key to unfolding some of the things that set us apart, but more importantly what brings us together.

But alas, not all shoes are created equal – of course Moesgaard Museum’s entire collection of shoes could not make it into the exhibition (though an impressive number will!) and the shoes featured on this blog tend to pride themselves with their beautiful colours, rare material, impeccable craftsmanship and their detailed moving stories. However, the ethnographic collections also hold a number of strange shoes that might be ‘ill-fitting’ to the aesthetic standards of museum exhibitions and social media. Therefore, I have made it my duty to dig out the shoes who have made it into the collections, but who have only rarely been celebrated through exhibition or blogpost.

First up is this wonderfully lonely shoe from Eastern Niger. The shoe, which probably once belonged to a woman from the nomadic Wodaabe people, was found in the desert by anthropologist Mette Bovin, who spent 25 years working with and on the nomadic peoples of Niger. Her collection holds more than 1600 objects that tell many intimate stories of life on the move – and among these sits this forlorn shoe that has lost its partner.

The shoe which is of the brand ‘Marina’ was made in Nigeria. It is made from black rubber and has a small heel. Great attention has been given the areas where one piece meets another, thus giving the shoe some nice detail work, especially in the front. The shoe has been made from rubber from a car tire and is locally called ‘padde-rooba’ – meaning rubber shoe.

However, the shoe is unfortunately broken – a piece close to the heel has broken off and the shoe has split down the right side. Yellow and blue string has been tied to the small strap in the bag, thus indicating to Mette Bovin that the shoe must have been tethered to a saddle but sadly fallen off – possibly leaving its partner, owner and the chance for being mended behind for good.

Though we might never know how the shoe ended up in the desert or how it was broken in the first place, we do get a glimpse of the care it was shown; an attempt was made to bring it somewhere – either to fix it or dispose of it in a more suitable fashion than leaving it in the desert. The shoe also tells us about how objects travel – the shoe was made in Nigeria passed on to the Wodaabe in South-Eastern Niger, ended up in the desert, only to be picked up by a Danish anthropologist who brought it all the way back to Denmark, where it now sits in another institution that cares greatly for it; Moesgaard Museum.

Thus, all that is gold does not glitter – and despite being a lonely and broken shoe, perhaps unfit for exhibition, this padde-rooba, rubber shoe, does tell us some interesting stories nonetheless.

//Katrine Mandrup Bach





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putting thought to things

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