Bronze Shoes Installation Project

Text and shoes by Aimee Sitarz; photographs by Kendall

Bronze Shoes Installation at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Building, 4310 SW Macadam Street, Portland, Oregon.

Be part of this project. Get some Bronze Shoes sent to your home. Hang them in your city as a reminder that these immigrant children are precious, and we will not forget them. Post a photo with the location on social media and tag #bronzeshoesinstallation

To apply for shoes to display in your locality, please click here.

Artist’s Statement: When the news first broke about children being separated from their families at the Mexico border, I was unable to watch. I had to leave the room whenever the TV was on. Having suffered separation trauma at a very young age myself, these accounts were too much. My heart was heavy.

After some time I knew I HAD to do something. I am an artist. I would use my art as activism, protesting the Trump administration’s deliberate political cruelty while letting immigrant families know that their children are precious to us, and we will not forget them. I thought of shoes.

Holocaust Memorial, Portland, Oregon. Bronze Shoes.

Throughout the 20th Century, American families had their baby’s first shoes electroplated. Keepsake bronze baby shoes became a memento of their children’s first steps. In sharp contrast, heaps of children’s shoes were found outside German concentration camps, a testament to the Holocaust. Bronzed baby shoes are featured in Holocaust memorialI began by collecting 100 children’s shoes and spray painting them bronze. I hung the first installation on a cyclone fence facing the entrance to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building in mid-July, 2018.

An occupation of the area near the ICE Building had started on June 17, 2018, and when the landlord of the property where I hung the shoes took them down and threw them into the street, activists from the camp rescued the shoes and strung them around the camp.

The Encampment of Occupy ICE, back of camp, before and after the sweep by Portland Police. Bancroft Street is at the far end of the encampment.

I saw a live video the day in late July when the Occupy ICE encampment was swept by Portland Police. The camera eyed them as they marched from the back of the camp towards the Bancroft street entrance. The bronze shoes had been laid in a straight line along the sidewalk at Bancroft, as if they were a moral barricade daring to be crossed. The cops stepped on them, over them, through them. The bronze shoes had become a voice for the children who could not speak for themselves.

Bronze Shoes Installation near City Hall, Portland, Oregon, in August and September, 2018

I hung more shoes near the 4th Avenue entrance to Portland City Hall. They were taken down, of course, although somehow the security force missed the few installed on the garden memorial stand which reads “Better Together.”

The following day as protesters gathered to attend a City Council meeting, the head of the security force tried cutting down the remaining shoes with a pair of scissors. A teenaged activist stood for almost 20 minutes protecting the shoes, guarding them, letting the woman from security know that he was not leaving. He would stand there all day if he had to.

Teenager defies G4S Security chief at Portland City Hall to defend Bronze Shoes Installation.

Other activists re-hung shoes in nearby trees, on newspaper boxes and bike racks. People stood up for the shoes, defending them even at risk of arrest. Across the street near Terry Shrunk Plaza a minor was arrested and a 15-month-old baby was maced while his mother was attempting to defend the shoes.

Bronze Shoes Installation has appeared at Portland’s water front, in parks, and in private businesses.

I continue installing bronze shoes throughout the city, and others have joined me in installing them. Some were hung at the NORCOR Detention Facility in The Dalles. Some were installed in Mayor Ted Wheeler’s front yard.

Bronze Shoes Installation at Pacific Northwest College of Art, September 2018.

The shoes have been exhibited in two galleries so far, but I get tired of saying you’re welcome. The shoes are not about me. They have become a symbol of the children for all of us.

Bronze Shoes Installation at Indivisible Gallery, Portland, Oregon, October, 2018.

I string bundles of shoes on wire, and they are lined up, waiting to be adopted. Who will pick the smallest shoes? The ugliest shoes? The boy shoes? The 14-year- old’s shoes?

The bronze shoes become part of altars and vigils for immigrant children lost or incarcerated; they hang in public places, they serve as reminders.

I intend to continue making these shoes and installing them in public spaces until ICE IS ABOLISHED.

Bronze Shoes Installation Project in Portland, June-October 2018, and the artist, Aimee Sitarz.
Shoes installed in Reid Park, Tucson, Arizona in October, 2018.

You can make this project a nationwide installation. To apply for shoes to display in your locality, please click here.