72 Unused Right Shoes

72 Unused Right Shoes is a project that came about by pure chance, somewhere between a found object piece and a portrait. It’s a result of working with people who have had significant medical interventions on their bodies; emergency surgeries, amputations and reconstructive operations.

During that project, one lady in particular struck me as quite unique. Sharon Woolridge had her leg removed after a tumour was found in her hip as a result of chemotherapy she had had ten years previously. Everyone we worked with spoke easily and at length about what had happened; they had accepted their injuries philosophically and were quite pragmatic about the difference in their lives.

The interesting thing about talking to Sharon was that it didn’t seem like there had been any change. There were remnants of what was clearly a traumatic time for her but it was obvious that it was simply something that had happened and that her life would carry on as normal. She didn’t carry her disability at all heavily and unless prompted, she never really referred to it.

During the 2012 Paralympics people like Martine Wright, Jonnie Peacock and Alex Zanardi were quite rightly all over our TV screens telling stories of incredible triumph over adversity. These stories are without a doubt hugely valuable, but there’s something else I think we need to shine a light on. What I see in Sharon isn’t a story of triumph over adversity but a life of colour and vibrancy regardless of that adversity.

As Sharon’s amputation was the result of a tumour and not an accident, she was in the strange situation of knowing exactly when it was going to happen. We asked her what she did on her last day with two legs; she headed out, bought the biggest pair of wedge heels she could find and went dancing. Since then she has kept every single, un-needed, right shoe. 72 so far.

Those 72 unused right shoes make me smile every time I think about them.

Normally we scoff at women’s love of shoes and the passion with which they covet and adore them but the fact that Sharon’s passion carried on untarnished is what I love about her. To me these shoes show her character. They are representations of her femininity and self-expression, but most tellingly they show us how she approaches what has happened to her; a thing that happened, that she’s not going to forget, but she’ll carry on regardless with flair and passion, colour and energy.

By presenting these shoes in conjunction with a large-scale portrait of Sharon, that idea of an exuberant life, shaped, but not dictated by what has happened is what I want the audience to consider.

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