Chinese shoes for bound feet, or lotus shoes, were worn by Chinese women from the Song Dynasty (960–1279) to the early twentieth century. Women practiced a footbinding ritual in which they tightly wrapped their 6- to 8-year-old daughters’ feet into a “lotus” shape by folding the four toes under the arch, halting development; the excruciatingly painful and repeated re-forming of the foot achieved a higher, bulging instep and elongated appearance from big toe to heel, necessitating a teetering gait that was considered fashionable and attractive. Within a strictly patriarchal society that controlled almost every aspect of women’s lives, women hand-crafted shoes for their bound feet with personalized designs of vivid hues and intricate embroidery, revealing the maker’s inner thoughts and unseen experiences.
Lotus Shoes: Stories between Stitches features a selection of shoes for bound feet from the Tang collection on view for the first time and in conversation with a contemporary artwork by Lillian Mulero. The exhibition explores how women expressed themselves creatively through individualized, unique shoes. The exhibition encourages viewers to consider their own reactions to societal standards, asking: What do we maintain, adopt, and reject in order to navigate our world? And how do the objects we make, wear, and use tell stories about who we are and who we want to be?