If you stroll past The ARMANDO CABRAL Mercado in New York’s Rockefeller Plaza, you might very likely find yourself stopped in front of its windows, attention snatched and intrigued by the unique sculptures staring back at you. Short, clever and comprised entirely of shoes from the ARMANDO CABRAL Collection, these African figures, crafted by artist Willie Cole, are designed to inspire.
Critically acclaimed for taking everyday objects and reimagining them as complex works of art, Cole’s past pieces utilize symbolic domestic items such as irons, high-heeled shoes, and hairdryers—complex in both structure and cultural significance—with each resulting sculpture offering a powerful comment on African history within America.
“For this project I wanted to exercise the power of the wearer,” says Cole. “Energy is in everything and when you wear something, your energy is in that, too. I began to play—no sketches—to follow what the shoes were leading me to.”
Cole’s unique vision and process found a home amongst the ARMANDO CABRAL Brand. For this project, the artist received an array of new and old shoes that span the brand’s 13-year history. Cole found himself especially drawn to the used shoes as a well of inspiration.
“I saw the used shoes as the battery that brought the others to life,” says Cole.
This installation marks the artist’s first-time working men’s footwear and sandals, specifically. He further challenged himself to explore the colors, African prints and textiles showcased in the footwear to create uniquely African pieces.
The imaginative end result features two African sculptures that are somehow imbued with the culture and qualities of the ancestors who have come before. Made entirely of shoes and yet emitting wisdom and authority, Cole’s connection to the shoe and its wearer breathes a sense of life into each piece.
Brought together by a shared love of fine art and the desire to share it with their community, this marks the first installation of an ongoing collaboration between Cole and Cabral. Next season, they will be teaming up again, this time in apparel with Cole contributing an original print for an upcoming ARMANDO CABRAL Menswear Project.
Until that unveiling, we hope you’ll join us at The ARMANDO CABRAL Mercado to experience artist Willie Cole’s transformative talent—along with the shoes that inspired him—for yourself.