The New York subway is a fashion runway. People from all walks of life show off their personalities, mostly through their all-black ensembles and sneakers. Artist Didi Rojas started paying attention to these outfits, especially the footwear, around 2016, when the hype of Air Force 1s, Converses and Stan Smiths started building up in New York City.
“Shoes in general are self-portraits of people.”
“Shoes in general are self-portraits of people. It’s either you use them out of necessity and they serve the purpose of supporting your feet,” Rojas, 26, tells Remezcla. “There is also the part that they allow you to show a little bit more for yourself if you have the opportunity to actually choose the shoes that you want to wear.”
It’s the latter the Colombian-born artist has focused on in her sculptural confections of footwear, a series that has gone from Nikes and Crocs to Balenciagas and Uggs, and has now built her a following of 10,000 on Instagram.
Rojas was inspired to begin her collection of ceramic shoes by her own pair of Air Force 1s. The set, she says, was so worn out they looked like they were made out of clay, so she gifted them to her twin.
“I thought it’d be really cool to try to recreate them in this medium,” she says. “Since then, it’s been obsessive.”
“I thought it’d be really cool to try to recreate them in this medium.”
As an artist, Rojas has mostly focused on working with ceramics. She attended Pratt Institute in New York City, where she majored in illustration. But she says ceramics always caught her attention, so she ended up experimenting with the medium in a series of projects at the school. Getting her hands dirty is a lesson she learned from her father, she says, whom she recalls always making the time to teach her and her sibling to draw after school.
“There was this idea of making the time for the things that you are passionate about,” Rojas says.
The family moved from Cali, Colombia to New Jersey when she was 4 years old. At the time, they worked different factory jobs.
This upbringing is the focus of her latest work. After years of creating ceramics out of sneaker designs, Rojas is now looking at Uggs – the official shoe of suburban America – for inspiration. She recalls people in her high school wearing a distinct uniform of Uggs, leggings and North Face jackets and understands there is a certain association between the sheepskin boots and the kinds of people, mainly young women, who wear them.
“I feel like a lot of people are either drawn to or want to stay away from [them] because of the people that you associate wearing them,” she says. “I’m starting to think about different brands and their place in our culture.”
“I’m starting to think about different brands and their place in our culture.”
For this series, Rojas built an array of pieces, mainly groups of two to four Ugg boots mounted on top of each other, which can be read as a statement on the proliferation of these shoes in the U.S.
The work she has put into her ceramics has paid off, not only on Instagram but offline as well. In 2019, she showed her solo exhibit “You Are Doing Amazing Sweetie” at Launch F18. The exhibit featured 20 pieces from her footwear series, which were meant to show the “connection with the everyday and the significance that these objects have to the human experience,” as described by the gallery’s website.
Beyond the accolades, Rojas just loves working. She creates her pieces, which can take anywhere from two weeks to a few months, in a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn that she shares with other artists. Although ceramics can be an expensive medium, she says maintaining her art space is her main concern.
Lately, Rojas has been experimenting with a new design that features a pair of tall boots that are connected to one another, like Siamese twins.
“It has taken me a lot to say I’m an artist working in ceramics.”
“So far it’s been the most surprising to me,” she says.
She has also started making ceramics out of handbag designs, including the famous tiny Jacquemus bag that Lizzo popularized at last year’s American Music Awards.
As a Latina artist in a white-dominated space, Rojas simply hopes to continue doing the artistic work that feeds her. For the last four years, her ceramics have become her “practice” and her goal is to keep making them, despite the evil voices imposter syndrome may feed her.
“It has taken me a lot to say I’m an artist working in ceramics. I think that now I’m putting so much importance into it, that it’s really what I want to do.”