Woman in Heels
- by Willie Cole
Inspired by West African Senufo sculpture, this figurative bronze demonstrates artist Willie Cole’s fondness for taking objects from western culture—in this case, the iconic female “power shoe”—and recasting them in a “tribal narrative.” Constructed entirely from previously-worn shoes, this kneeling, full-bodied figure is an attempt to “extract the spirit from the original object” while exploring what one critic has called “the fantasy that high heels have always made it their business to promote.”
A central facet of Cole’s work since the 1980s has been his creative use of high-heeled shoes, which he has recast into pieces resembling furniture, bouquets, masks, animals, and, as we see here, human forms.
This sculpted figure, titled Woman in Heels, is the latest version of a design that Cole has revisited over the years and was most recently seen in New York as part of his solo exhibit titled Bella Figura, which also featured African-style shoe masks and other shoe-inspired works. Cole often finds the shoes he uses in local thrift stores and says he draws inspiration from the wrinkles and creases—the “recorded memories”—left behind by the shoes’ previous wearers.
As he explains, “I’m letting the shoe lead me. If the shoe is pointing that way, I go that way. I’m pulling out the spirit of the shoe, or the wearer of the shoe. I’m not really dictating anything. . . . [The shoes] are the foundation. They’re close to the Earth. And they have memory. I can see the shoe take the shape of the foot that’s in it sometimes. So all those things are feeding my choices. Also, I’m not the first artist to use the shoe. Dalí made a hat out of a shoe. It’s almost like a readymade with a history.”
Born in Somerville, NJ and raised in Newark, Willie Cole studied at the School of Visual Arts and the Art Students League in New York. Best known for his assemblage works made from or with ordinary domestic and used objects such as shoes, irons and ironing boards that reference African and African-American experience, Cole has exhibited widely and his work can be found in the permanent collections of the Newark Museum, the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. A sculptor, painter, printer, and visual and conceptual artist, he lives and works in Newark.
Take a Look!
Location: Village Green – North West Quad
Installation Status: Current Installations