Symbolism in African Art


The Fort Rock cave in Oregon, US, is famous for the discovery of the earliest known shoes in 1938. They are known as the sagebrush bark sandals, which date back to approximately 8000 BC. The oldest leather shoe in the world dates back to 3500 BC. It is made from a piece of cowhide laced with a leather cord at the front and back and was found in Armenia at the Areni-1 cave complex in 2008. Ötzi the Iceman’s shoes, dated to 3300 BC, were made with brown bearskin bases, deerskin side panels, and a bark-string net, which pulled tight around the foot. The Jotunheimen shoe, discovered in August 2006, is dated between 1800 and 1100 BC. Sandals and other plant fibre-based tools were found in Cueva de los Murciélagos in Albuñol in southern Spain in 2023, dating to approximately 7500 to 4200 BC, and archaeologists believe them to be the oldest shoes in Europe.
Shoes have an interesting history in Asia. In the late 13th century, footbinding was adopted into the Chinese culture. Yao Niang, a court dancer who had enthralled Emperor Li Yu, invented this ancient practice. It was later adopted into mainstream Chinese culture and became a symbol of refinement and sophistication for Chinese women. Though the practice of foot binding had some sexual overtones to it, it was a painful and terrible process which severely altered the shape and look of the feet. It forced women to rely on their thigh and buttock muscles for balance and movement, giving them a peculiar gait which their male counterparts found sexually appealing. This practice started at a very young age, and girls would often go through the process of having the bones in their toes and feet broken and bound while they healed. To showcase their dainty feet, women usually wore tiny pairs of silk embroidered slippers to attract suitors. For families with marriageable daughters, foot size became a yardstick for affluence and a way to marry into a higher social class. The most beautiful and appealing brides had a three-inch foot, known as a golden lotus, and while it was respectable to have a four-inch foot, termed a silver lotus, feet that were five inches or longer, known as iron lotuses, were extremely undesirable and reduced a woman’s prospect of getting married.

Furthermore, as far back as 1200 BC, Egyptians wore various styles of shoes that were indicative of social standing. A commoner’s sandal, for instance, consisted of a sole made of plaited hemp or papyrus and a simple leather strap, while sandals with a long piece of leather curled around the top of the foot denoted a person of noble origins.
Like the Egyptians, Romans used footwear to indicate their status in society. Commoners and enslaved people often wore ordinary footwear, while prisoners wore wooden shoes, making walking challenging and uncomfortable. Upper-class citizens wore well-made sandals categorized by colour to demonstrate the owner’s status; senators wore sandals with black thongs, while emperors’ sandals were decorated with red adornments.

In addition, shoes have played a critical role in European fashion for hundreds of years. The Crakow craze, worn from the medieval times to the 14th century, featured this trendy slipper-like shoe, which ended with the shoe’s toe pointed in a flamboyant upward curl, sometimes as long as 20 inches. Then, the chopine, a very premature version of platform shoes, came to the limelight. The height of these shoes indicated a person’s wealth and status in society—the higher the shoe, the more prominent the wearer was.

Though the concept of shoe museums may seem odd, there are many shoe museums worldwide with vast collections of incredible shoes used by ancient civilizations and all kinds of tools connected to the manufacturing of shoes. About 160 miles west of London was a shoe museum showcasing 1,500 pieces of footwear from as far back as a second-century sole from a girl’s sandal, medieval shoes from London, a Chinese shoe for a bound foot and Princess Diana’s wedding slipper.
The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada, regularly showcases over a thousand shoes and related artefacts from a collection of nearly 15,000 objects. The founder of this museum, Sonja Bata, was heavily vested in the global shoe industry, which enabled her to collect some of the world’s finest shoes to create North America’s foremost shoe museum. In 1979, the Bata family established the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation. Over the years, the Foundation has funded activities and research in communities with rapidly changing traditions – some of which are Indigenous cultures of North America and circumpolar groups in Canada, Siberia, Alaska, and Greenland. The Bata Shoe Museum debuted on May 6, 1995, at 327 Bloor Street West, Toronto. As a unique, world-class, specialized museum, it has become a central destination point for visitors and residents and a significant inspiration for shoemakers globally.

In Africa, the Ankara fabric is a unique and beautiful textile that has become an essential part of African culture and is used to make mainstream fashion items like boots and sneakers. The fabric is characterized by its colourful, bold, and intricate patterns and prints, often inspired by the versatility of the African spirit. The Ankara fabric takes on a bold and audacious look and feel on shoes. They scream of uniqueness, beauty and exquisite grace. The Ankara design is widely used in African fashion, particularly in Nigeria, Ghana, and other West African countries, and they have become increasingly popular in the global fashion industry, with many world-acclaimed designers incorporating the fabric into their creations. The fabric has also gained an international reputation and is now used by designers worldwide.

Please visit to view and order from our vast array of Ankara shoes.

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