Shoes or No Shoes? [SONS]: Our Eons-Long Love Affair With Shoes

SONS, Belgium.

Did you know that there is a museum full of shoes in Belgium? There is. The museum holds several collections, comprised of shoes donated by contemporary artists, designers, ethnographers and cartoonists. The collection of artists shoes is called: Shoes or No Shoes (SONS)? The answer is: shoes! Collectors, Veerle Swenters and Pierre Bogaerts make this statement on the Museum website: “20 years ago we ended up in shoe business because of Veerle’s father being a shoemaker in Antwerp. Two years later we started the SONS project. Collecting all the artists addresses was quite a challenge itself and then contacting them. Writing over and over again, hours on the phone… it was a huge task. In no time we wrote over 1000 letters to the most famous artists: Arman, Baselitz, Fabre, Long, Panamarenko, Pistoletto, Richter, Wesselman etc…Pretty soon we received positive reactions motivating us to continue this project. From the beginning many artists even transformed their shoes into an artwork.”


Shoes are arguably the most fetishized article of clothing there is. In the name of having “beautiful” feet people (most often women, historically) have spared no cost or disfigurement to send a message to the world about who they are. With their feet. Usually that message is, “I am special, I am important, just look at my feet.” From foot-binding practices to Imelda Marcos’ obsession, people have chosen shoes to speak for and about them since the day that the first shoe was invented.



The collectors go on to say, “Many people like to ask us what our favorite object is and which artist we like the most. Actually we don’t have a favorite because we consider the collection an entity and not individual contributions. That makes it hard to tell which object exactly is our number one.” Spending hours pouring over thousands of images of shoes, I too am at a loss to choose a favorite.


Sometimes shoes aren’t even worn on the feet…


Human beings started wearing shoes about 40,000 years ago, as evidenced by fossilized toe bones. “Erik Trinkaus, a paleoanthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said the scarcity of toe bone fossils makes it hard to determine when habitual shoe-wearing became widespread. However, he noted, even Neanderthals may have been strapping on sandals. ‘Earlier humans, including Neanderthals, show [some] evidence of occasionally wearing shoes’, Trinkaus said.” – National Geographic news.

The earliest cave paintings are estimated to be approximately 32,000 years old. So, art and shoes are among our early loves as a species, and the SONS collections brings them together harmoniously.


I first became aware of the collection when I was asked to send some shoes. I was eager to do so, but couldn’t think what to send. Did I want to send just a pair of my own shoes? Did I want to make a piece? If so, what would it be? Months went by and no answer came to me. Then one day I was walking on the Lower East Side in Manhattan and I passed a lone, red baby shoe, sitting just where I would see it. I had written a screenplay that  featured a lone red baby shoe—a talisman of sorts for my main character—and I took the finding of this baby shoe to be my own talisman. I picked up the shoe and was finally able to make my piece…


Aside from the collection of artists’ contributions the museum also houses an ethnographic collection …


A collection of designer shoes …


And even a cartoon collection …


I definitely plan to make a pilgrimage to see all these wondrous shoes.

About lixilamb

Artist, Author, Filmmaker.


  1. I am inspired by the power tour of your sampeling.
    I am past the deadline for a mail-ART exhibit BUT my plan was…
    I was given a pair of custom hand crafted shoes by Susan Bennis Warrren Edwards NY park Ave shoe makers. A guy I worked for had two pairs one in black and another beige, he didnt like the black pair and offered them to me …1982 $800.00 a pair. They were a bit big but liked them none the less.. Recently met a young woman aharo shooter , champion skeet shooter who has agreed to shoot them in a skeet style tossed in the air. A video and still document to accompany the shoes was planned. I have been creating targets for women to shoot and document as well as women with their weapons. the inspiration was a column I did on tattoos of guns on and by women. The most amazing factoid in all my research was the fact that the first ever in the world FEMALE superstar was Annie Oakley who toured the globe and was entertained by sitting Bull and royalty. Still have to make the project happen… the french show is long paST BUT MAYBE NOW I CAN include it in this collection… Thanks for thje inspiration to revive my concept. or maybe the entire collection.
    Matty J.
    Mail art call
    The Françoise Giroud Library of Castries ( France ) organizes from January 4th to January 31st 2012 a Mail art exhibition.
    We therefore send out a call for contributions on the following subject : Shoes.
    The mail art must be a 3D object
    Please send your work before November 1rst 2011 to the following address :
    Art postal – Chaussure
    Médiathèque Françoise Giroud
    15 avenue de la Cave coopérative
    34160 CASTRIES
    All works will be displayed during the exhibition at the end of the year, as well as on the Library’s website at the following address :,
    in the “Action culturelle et pédagogique / Art postal” section.
    No jury, no fee, no return. Postal delivery only.

  2. Kat

    I love shoes. I counted my shoes a couple of months ago, and I have close to 100 pairs including the flip flops (which I never wear, so why do I own any?). Shoes definitely art to me. I love challenging shoes and strange shoes and shoes that are so weird or ugly that they become beautiful. It’s strange to wear some of these shoes in the context of my life of being a mother of four children and a part-time librarian and a sometimes amateur motorcycle racer. I think that the juxtaposition of these shoes with the rest of my regular life is what I love about them.

    We all have things we wish we could do but don’t have time for–we can’t do everything. But if we could, I would devote several years to becoming a cobbler. I love that Daniel Day-Lewis took five years out of his career to learn the art of cobbling from an Italian maestro. I enjoy his superb acting all the more because of it.

    Someday I’ll make it to Belgium.

  3. My boyfriend’s grandmother (married to a Belgian, incidentally) had her pinkie toes surgically removed in the 1930s, so as to better fit into her collection of heels. Her daughter-in-law maintains that this procedure was relatively common amongst wealthy women in the early-to-mid 20th century, and that the surgical procedure itself served as a status symbol in the early-to-mid 20th century. “I am special, I am important, just look at my feet.”

IBC LOVES your brain, and we encourage thoughtful, lively discussion. We will, however, moderate comments that are abusive or disrespectful. Stay classy!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: