Mountain shoes


Installations & lands



From the Land of the Symbolic

One comes into contact with the works of My Feet are My Wings (Mis
Pies son Mis Alas) and asks: What is there behind the obvious, or,
what is the artistic work really claiming? Recognizing the previous
work of Walter Iraheta, one knows that besides the aesthetic pleasure
that is experienced in front of a rigorous artistic creation, whether
be it painting, photograph, installation or another medium, there is
something more that searches to communicate, sometimes through irony
or a sense of humor, other times through nostalgia, and still more
through pure suggestion. Moreover, each work in the series is part of
a larger discussion that the artist has elaborated upon and can tell
us with detail, if he were asked. In fact, in the blog openned by the
artist in relation to this show we read:

"My Feet are my Wings is a collective of photographs in which exists
an analogy between the object and the human being, the object as live
matter, capable of evoking feelings and sensations, capable of passing
on to us a large amount of information left in it, contained by the
energy of the people who participated in its making and those who will
then make use of it. The object is a symbol of power, a symbol of
belonging, of tenacity, of status, of style, of necessity, history,
the beginning and the end. The object gives testimony to space and
time." That is, the work is an allegory, as Heidegger explains it
well: "The work is symbolic. Allegory and symbolism are the frameworks
of representation under which the characterization of a work of art
has moved for a long time." That is, the work goes beyond itself as an
object of art and guides our look toward other realities. A shoe stops
from being just an object of use and relates to us as a human
experience, real or fiction.

When one thinks about photography, it is assumed that this allows the
possibility of faithfully copying a fragment of reality. That is to
say, we assign credibility to it as a primary characteristic. We do
not doubt the existence of the shown as our eyes see it. Submerged in
the enchantment of good photography, we don't think in that moment of
light and shadow, compositions or games. Instead, we comfortably
accept the condition as visual truth. This is not to say that it is
not really this way. In My Feet are My Wings, for example, we see
shoes of every type, in photographs and in installations, and the shoe
portraits effectively remain to the world as real and possible.
However, the disposition of the shoes, the composition of the series,
and the combinations and sets change the dimension of the real
character that is presented to us, propelling us to look beyond to a
new alegorical reality, in such a way that the shoes stop being just
mere objects whose senses give others their use, and begin to convert
into elements of reflection about reality and human nature.

On the other hand, photography as a fragment of reality that remains
outside forms part of that chain of meanings already established by
that initial fragment. In "Preludio," for example, there is a boot
placed over a white sheet. We assume that it is a woman's boot and
that the woman has taken it off. We also imagine that the taking off
of the boot has been a prelude to an action that is only suggested to
us through the composition and the title of the work. So, what Walter
does to unite the boot, the white sheet, and the title is provide the
objects with new contexts, and by that, new meanings. It does not
matter if the artist has created a simulation by putting the boot on
the bed to photograph it in the end. The thing of importance here is
that not only have we've bitten the fishhook that's been thrown to us,
but with indulgance.

Even in photodocumentary, photography has those both sides, that of
the actual copied reality and the other filled with a multitude of
significances. This unites the fact that the selection of the fragment
of reality photographed has put the look of the artist, of the
documentory photographer, or of the innocent picture taker that only
wants to record what's been lived or seen, in an impossible act of
retaining an ephemeral moment. Therefore, the artist elects the object
of his or her gaze (and in doing so has already designed a new being)
and already knows how it appears in his eyes or recomposed according
to a prior idea. In other words, the artist adjusts the reality to his
lense. Walter Iraheta does both things by photographing shoes and feet
and applying new significance to them.

On the other side, photography places us in a precise moment that,
nevertheless, opens us to the world and history, creating a narrative
that starts from associations. But in the instant this has been fixed
and the artist has captured it, such existing is gone, and its
existence begins to take forms of discourse that the artist has
iniciated--even before taking the photo--and what we see of the work
we can continue or not, adding elements that come from our own
history, from our particular experience in this world. Photography in
its originality belongs to the artist, but it is also ours, like the
shoes photographed by Walter that belong to someone else and that he
makes his own through the camera, through their free disposition, and
the act of transforming them into works of art.

On one hand, we have photographs whose origins come from exhumations
done by the artist in Rabinal, Guatemala. Beautiful, elegant and
sober, despite the profound sadness they hold and the terrible reality
that alludes it. Next, we have installations like Mandala or Jardin,
en which Walter has decided the character of the shoes, the grand part
of them old and used, rescuing them from abandonment and giving them a
new sense of dignity. There are also that photographic installations
that establish a dialogue with artists like Magrite and Duchamp, and
with the ironic weight that they possess, seem to give the work the
necessary balance that takes us away from the nostalgic horror and
contemplation of beauty to the reflection over objects that define
us--in this case, shoes.

One of the symbolic values of the wings is that of the "regeneration",
which is precisely what Walter Iraheta finishes with in this work. By
photographing portraits of the shoes, we are told about the feet, and
doing so uncovers or grows the stories of life.

Anabella Acevedo, quetzaltenango, Guatemala, 2007.


My Feet are My Wings

One of the first photography exhibits that I curated when I working as
coordinator at the Alternative Space Exhibits FOTOCAFE along with the
photo journalist Edgar Romero; director of the Free Images association;
was a show we titled 24 from 24. Twenty-four images were taken from
the family albums of ex-archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Arnulfo
Romero, along with photographs from the news archives taken during the
beginning of the war in El Salvador, around 1980. The inauguration was
held on March 24, 2004.

The photograph that we used for the invitations and posters, was one taken from
one of the building’s rooftop, close to the General Gerardo Barrios civic
plaza in El Salvador, an aerial shot that recorded an immense mountain
of shoes covering the avenue and part of the plaza after a stampede of
thousands of parishioners congregated in front of the metropolitan
cathedral the day of the archbishop's funeral, an image that without a
doubt went around the world and remained engraved in the imaginary collective. In my case, I was hardly 11 years old at the time and
lived in a very popular area on the outskirts of the capital. I
remember my grandmother very closely following the radio news of the
funeral procession when, in clear transmission, the first shots and
shouts were heard. Hours later my neighbor, Chamba, a young man of
about 25 years, arrived to our house. He was pale, dirty, drenched in
sweat and crying like a boy, trying to tell my grandmother between
sobs what was happening. I watched in surprise, for never in my short
life had I seen a man cry. Yet, the detail that I remember most of
that moment was that Chamba was barefoot--without shoes--except for a
half torn sock on one foot. Though it seems incredible, in those days
he worked for ADOC, the most important shoe factory in the region.
When I saw that photograph, all the memories rushed back into my mind
and I knew it was to be the image to promote the exhibit.

Some months ago while reading a newspaper, I came across an image very
similar to that just described, only that in this case it was of a
mountain of shoes left by people who had fled from a bomb attack in
Iraq. This can also be compared with images like the mountain of
shoes that remained after the Jewish Holocaust. At the end, it seems
that history takes care of reminding us from time to time that some
things just don't change.

"I have seen a shinbone and a thighbone end up in a sandal," someone
told me while talking of the exhumations, "families remembering their
dead by the shoes that were wore the day they were assassinated." I
also heard one time that energy enters through the upper part of the
body--the head--and exits through the feet. Perhaps it is because of
this that often we see cadavers whose shoes have been thrown off
during a brutal accident and are later found meters from the body.

My Feet are my Wings is a collective of photographs in which exists an
analogy between the object and the human being, the object as live
matter, capable of evoking feelings and sensations, capable of passing
on to us a large amount of information left in it, contained by the
energy of the people who participated in its making and those who will
then make use of it. The object is a symbol of power, a symbol of
belonging, of tenacity, of status, of style, of necessity, history,
the beginning and the end. The object gives testimony to space and

In certain cultures the shoe is viewed as a fetish, an object that
incites or increases sexual desire. In Ancient China, for example, the
women used to squeeze into tiny shoes because feminine small feet were
considered very attractive. I imagine that these women reached the
point of turning the practice into an instrument of torture, torture
that the contemporary western woman seems to have not abandoned by
wearing high heels for their pretext of elegance. There are people who
believe that much can be said about a person by looking at his or her
shoes. By the color, the shape, how well the shoe is taken care of,
its material, this object-the shoe-reveals details about its owner in
an unsuspicious way.

In a certain way, this series is also a poetic, nostalgic work. When I
was a boy, the economy did not treat my family very well, and owning a
pair of shoes was something of extraordinary luck. Generally, they
weren't the shoes that one loved to have, but they complied with my
mother's expectations of durability. One of my most recurring dreams
was to see me arrive home with boxes and boxes of new shoes. Converse
All Stars of every color. I remember perfectly the smell of the new
canvas, the rubber sole, waking in the morning with this sensation
still so alive. The first thing I did was search for them under my
bed. Obviously, the only thing I found was my regular shoes, ugly and
sceptical, hard by themselves but that my memory now reproduces with a
beauty that causes much emotion, an emotion that is extended to the
sight of abandoned shoes buried in the road or tangled in the
telephone pole cables. I always pick these shoes up when I can and
take them to my studio hoping that at some moment they will talk to me
and tell me their story as I get ready to photograph them.

Some months ago, I went with my best friend to visit his father that
lives outside the city. He asked me to accompany him because he knew
that I was taking photographs of shoes, and his father had a lot of
pairs for me to shoot. What I found was the history of his family
contained in hundreds of pairs of shoes placed in high wooden shoe
cupboards that stretched from the floor to the ceiling, made with his
own hands he explained. Moreover, there were pairs accumulated in the
corners, under the bed and in those sacks that are used for storing
basic grains. He told me that he never threw the shoes away and that
there were at least some fifty years in age among them all, those from
his children and those from his wife. In effect, there were styles
from other periods, fashions from other times, models that had become
obsolete, very outdated but that time and dust have redressed with
great beauty.

Moreover, My Feet are my Wings involves a dialogue with emblematic
images of art history like Charlie Chaplin's ankle boots served on a
table, Robert Mapplethorpe’s tap shoes, the famous oil paintings of
worn out ankle boots by Vince Van Gogh, or the boots that end in toes
by Rene Magritte. I intend to talk about what is happening and has
happened through my visual, personal, social and artistic experience,
principally making use of photography but also of installation, object
art, and video.

There are certainly shoes found that are true pieces of art. There's
no more need than to change their context and take notice of the rare
idea that our feet very well can arrive to become our wings.