For the last six years, a Dallas group has been collecting baby booties – 11,000 pairs – for a one-of-a-kind art installation.
Beverly Hill is putting the finishing touches on the exhibit, at the Fashion Industry Gallery in the Dallas Arts District. She delicately ties a pair of bright blue and gold onto a tall steel frame inside the Fashion Industry Gallery. This pair hangs between a pair made by a woman rescued from cleaning latrines in India and another sewn by a daughter of a former prostitute.
“It is a very powerful visual when you turn a corner and you have your ‘Oh My God’ moment and you can see these 11,000 pairs extend quite a distance,” says Beverly Hill, founder of the Dallas-based Gendercide Awareness Project.
She wants people to know about the large scale female attrition happening worldwide. United Nation demographers estimate that there should be an additional 3.5 million women in the world each year. They’re missing because of sex selective abortion, infanticide, gross neglect of girls, maternal death and inadequate food and shelter for older women. Each pair of booties in the art installation represents 10,000 missing women.
“These women are not dying of natural causes,” Hill explains. “They are dying from man-made causes and practices that are discriminatory but socially sanctioned and deeply embedded in cultures.”
Ninety percent of the booties were made from at-risk women in developing countries. Hill’s non-profit paid the women a fair wage. The rest were made by volunteers in Dallas, like Ann Gillespie, the President of the Dallas KnitWits.
“The ones I made are felted,” says Gillespie. “You wash them in the washing machine, they shrink and you sew them up.”
When her group was first asked to contribute a couple hundred pairs of booties, she knew little about gendercide.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Gillespie says. “It was pretty eye-opening.”
Few people do. That’s why in 2015, Hill invited Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen to speak at the University of Dallas. He was the first to flag that 100 million women were missing from the census numbers. The event raised awareness, but Hill says the organization struggles with keeping supporters from feeling overwhelmed.
“When the initial skepticism is overcome, they are shocked, defeated and they shut down,” Hill says.
So, she gathered works from 24 different professional artists to help people process the art installation, steering them, she said, to a safer emotional shore.
Johannes Boekhoudt was one of the artists. The Dutch-Caribbean native loaned refined oil painting to the exhibit. In it, a young, faceless girl is running in a repetitive film strip.
“‘The Escape of Lana’ is about a little girl who is being abused. She is trying to escape every day,” Boekhoudt says.
The painting is very personal because it captures Boekhoudt’s own mother’s struggle with domestic violence.
“It’s a film that I want to have it stop, so we can stop repeating the same atrocities.”
Hill hopes people will see these baby booties as beautiful, playful and whimsical – just like the girls and women who have been lost.