Here in Australia, one woman dies at the hands of her current or former partner every single week. One in three women has suffered physical violence, while one in five has suffered sexual violence. And in the UK, the figures are just as confronting: domestic violence leads to two women dying, on average, every week. Yet the women who live through this abuse, no matter where they live, are more than just harrowing statistics; they are real people struggling to piece their lives together after enduring horrific (and often prolonged) ordeals, many of whom go on to suffer post traumatic stress symptoms.
Enter Little Paper Slipper, a UK charity that helps victims on their long road to recovery through the healing power of art therapy. The brainchild of visual artist Marie-Louise Jones, Little Paper Slipper hold papier-mâché workshops run out of various refuges across the country. Each papier-mâché shoe then forms part of an ever-growing exhibition, which serves as an unflinchingly powerful reminder of how prevalent domestic abuse is.
The idea for Little Paper Slipper came to Marie-Louise after being commissioned by UK charity Women’s Aid to create an installation as part of a public campaign in 2012. The experience had a profound affect on Marie-Louise, who admits to “feeling that there was something more that I could do,” she recalls. With her previous experience of facilitating art workshops for vulnerable groups, the concept for Little Paper Slipper was born.
“Art is a proven means to reach aspects of life that cannot be accessed by conversation alone, and can be such an important process, particularly for people who have experienced trauma,” says Marie-Louise. “Being together as a group and bonding with each other can create a safe space for expression too, which is often an important aspect of the workshops.”
Each workshop runs over two consecutive days and typically involves discussions surrounding power and focuses on establishing a safe place for the women to explore their thoughts and experiences. This process is encouraged through the creation and decoration of each participant’s unique papier-mâché shoe. “Each woman writes and draws upon it to make it say the things she wants to say,” says Marie-Louise. Some shoes are adorned with affirmations such as, “Today my life begins,” or, “It’s us against the world,” while others simply ask, “Why?” Each slipper is unique, but equally powerful.
So far, Little Paper Slipper has worked with over 122 women in 42 different workshops nationwide. Following every workshop, each shoe is exhibited as an art installation, which is showcased in biennial public exhibitions. “This gives the women a platform for speaking out, and gives the public an opportunity to encounter these powerful and moving works of art,” explains Marie-Louise.
Indeed, not only does the exhibition raise awareness, it also creates a meaningful dialogue on domestic abuse. “A workshop participant once said to me 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,” says Marie-Louise.
She notes that while everyone knows domestic abuse exists, statistics are not what really moves us as human beings. “What we do respond to is the individual voice of another human being, and that’s what the exhibition provides. Through all of the shoes, you hear the women’s voices,” says Marie-Louise. “Through art, the exhibition is able to speak to people and challenge assumptions, engage emotions, and change perspectives – whilst creating beautiful works of art in the process.”