I have just returned from a pilgrimage, a visit to Stanley Spencer's 'Holy Box', the Sandham Memorial Chapel in Hampshire. Sandham is not like most memorials. The images here are neither heroic nor horrific but depictions of ordinary scenes drawn from Spencer's time in Salonika during the first world war. It is extraordinary being in this space, surrounded by so much detail, pattern and life. Spencer plays his games with perspective and scale and the eye zooms in on minute detail, then out across expanses as it tries to take in this impossible to see whole, whole. He plays with the identity of materials too, so that the fabric of a cloak appears like carved stone and barbed wire could be a tangle of wildflower roots.
I hope the details below give some idea of its brilliance.
I love this story. I love the idea of shoes as an act of rebellion. It is extraordinary that in a culture where shoes are considered filthy and the throwing of a shoe, or showing of the sole, a deep insult, that a shoe with dirt in its sole (albeit hermetically sealed) is being purchased and worn. There is, of course, an exchange taking place here too. Professor Beverley Butler at UCL speaks beautifully about the amuletic object's capacity to collapse the space between person and object so that each takes on characteristics of the other. Perhaps the shoes take on a little of the exile's heartache, while the wearer feels a temporary repossession of home? Indeed, during my recent treatment for cancer, I received many magical objects from loved ones: a bag of 'worry dolls', a shawl that became a talismanic comfort blanket, a fossil, even a bottle of holy water, each of them offering such a temporary exchange.
For THE SHOEMAKER'S DESIGNS I made a series of drawings and embroidered pieces of a shoe, stitched them onto muslin and then into a concertina sketchbook. The concertina evokes the folds of a map, while some sections of the shoe sprout feathers, evoking dreams of escape and, in the interior of the sole, an embroidered sea connects shoe-locked wishes with the landlocked Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee in the former Palestine.
1. Raja Shehadeh, Language of War, Language of Peace: Palestine, Israel and the Search for Justice, Profile Books, 2015