The Little Paper Slipper charity offers a creative voice to women affected by domestic abuse – and listens to what they have to say. Founder Marie-Louise Jones gives us the story so far.
Little Red Riding Whore. That was one of the chapters from my university dissertation, writing about how fairy tales were embedded with coded instructions, a moral bible on how little girls should behave.
I was always captivated by enchanted fairytale stories, particularly the writings of Marina Warner and Angela Carter. From the Beast to the Blonde or The Company of Wolves: magical, dark worlds presented in seductive realms with beautiful creatures navigating surreal twists and turns.
I didn’t know back then that my fascination would lead to a lifelong body of work that would grow from a small studio in Hackney to hundreds (and then hopefully thousands) of little paper slippers.
“I enjoyed every part of the workshops. It helped me to express my feelings and feel as if I have a voice. I feel powerful and good about myself.” – Little Paper Slipper workshop participant
Little Paper what? I often get asked. The Little Paper Slipper. It began life in my shared studio in Hackney. In 2012, I was asked by Women’s Aid to make artwork for a fundraising campaign, and afterwards was left feeling that there was something more I could do for the cause.
So I invented the concept and spent six months developing the project, gathered a few magic beans (raised money through a crowdfunding campaign) and thus began a two-month nationwide tour of women’s refuges.
Three years later and the Little Paper Slipper is now a fully constituted charity that gives a creative voice to women affected by domestic abuse, and makes that voice heard.
We run art workshops in refuges across the UK where women create papier-mâché shoes and write and draw on them the things they want to say, with the shoes forming an ever-growing art installation that is exhibited to the public every two years.
And the name? It stems from the story of Cinderella, 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 fairytale imagery portrays repossessing a negative aspect of society and, through imagination, turns it into something beautiful – which is reflected in the project through the way the women draw on their experience of domestic abuse to create positive and empowering works of art.
In the workshops we discuss and deconstruct notions of power. And at the beginning of every workshop I hear many of the women say, “I’m not powerful”, when in reality the women I meet in the refuges are some of the strongest and most courageous women I have ever met… like Carter’s heroines, these women are capable of saving themselves. No Prince Charming required.
The workshops exist for many reasons and one is to remind the women of their power and strength and that they have beautiful gifts to give to the world. And not just in the form of little paper shoes.
“Thank you, this made me feel good about myself and powerful; you made me smile and feel normal.” – Little Paper Slipper workshop participant
Domestic abuse is about power and control and the act of limiting another’s voice, and many women enter the refuges with low confidence and low self-esteem. This is something I try to help build within the workshops.
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 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.
A woman once said to me in a workshop that it felt so good to be able to say the things she had kept inside all this time – and to have someone listen. Which is a huge part of the exhibition strand of the project.
Everyone knows domestic abuse exists, that it’s more prevalent than we like to talk about, with one in four women being affected in their lifetime – but I’m not going to go on about statistics; this isn’t what really moves us as human beings.
What we do respond to is the individual voice of another, and that’s what the exhibition provides; through all of the shoes you hear the women’s voices. And so through art, the exhibition is able to speak to people and challenge assumptions, engage emotions and change perspectives.
We have our next exhibition coming up soon which is a great opportunity to see the installation and say hello to the Little Paper Slipper team.
The opening reception is free for all and is on Friday 23 September 2016 at Islington Arts Factory in London.
We aren’t claiming that our story ends with the world ‘living happily ever after’ but we are doing something about domestic abuse, attempting to tackle the issue, one little paper slipper at a time.
For more information visit www.littlepaperslipper.com
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