“In Tatjana’s Shoes”, a street art exhibit by a group of students from Osnabrück, Germany. Photo: EMMA.
Human trafficking and prostitution are big topics in Germany right now. A law reform is on the table, but the real debate is happening on the streets. And a group of university students from northern Germany decided that the best way to show the impact of the two interconnected issues was to find the kind of shoes a woman or girl in the sex trade might have worn, and set them on the street with a “price tag” beside them. EMMA reports on the impact of this stark, simple exhibit:
An unusual scene recently appeared on the main shopping street in Osnabrück, Germany: An orderly rectangle filled with women’s and girls’ shoes. Each pair of shoes had a price sign next to it. By the pink pumps: “Tatjana, 16, blowjob, 15 euros”; by the purple high-heeled sandals: “Olessia, 17, anal, 65 euros”. And next to a pair of children’s shoes: “Newborn girl, 1000 euros.” The people behind the exhibit: a group of art students from Osnabrück University. They wanted their project to raise awareness of human rights abuses in prostitution. We asked them: How did you get this idea? How did people react? And what’s next? Here is their answer:
“We are a group of art students from Osnabrück University (four women, one man). We are between 21 and 25 years old. Last winter semester, we took a course on artistic interventions in public and semi-public spaces. The need to take on a political subject was important to us. At some point the topics of human trafficking and prostitution came up, since they moved us the most, shocked us, and we felt the need to share our bewilderment about them.
“We decided on the symbol of dirty, worn-out, but milieu-appropriate shoes. We also wanted to shock people with the hand-written cardboard signs. If you take the children’s shoes with the label ‘Newborn girl, 1000 euros” as an example of the reactions of passersby, then you could see, especially in women, shock, rage at the circumstances, bewilderment and disgust. ‘Really terrible to see children’s shoes in this context.’ Or, ‘The shoe sizes are crass!’ One could also see the passersby explaining the topic to one another. Some debated whether there was still forced prostitution…
“Lots of them turned the signs back over, if the wind had blown them down, in order to read them. Passersby bent down to get a better look at the shoes, read every sign systematically, circled around the rectangle, and shook their heads. A bunch of boys knocked a pair of shoes over and read the signs to each other in broken German. Others set the shoes back up. Some stepped into the middle of the rectangle to get a good look even at the shoes there, and be able to touch them.
“Sometimes people talked to us about the project, and asked how we’d come up with it. Whether it was real stories that we were showing, and what moves us personally the most about it. Many of them also told us that they needed more explanation. Others were of the opinion that it all spoke for itself.
“This was our first exhibit in the area. We’re still feeling our way around, and hadn’t expected that our début would make such big waves. We are all anchored in different areas of art. Until now, we have preferred analog photography and painting. That’s why such projects and interventions are a bit of new territory for us. We plan to show the exhibit again, in other cities.”
More photos at the link.