The way artist Esther Osayande sees it, everyone has a story worth sharing.
"They may not want to talk about it verbally," said Osayande, a Twin Cities painter, writer and community leader. "But they would like to be able to express it in some form."
On a recent evening at Obsidian Arts, a center of black art and culture, the form on display was footwear.
As 17 women filled the carriage house of the Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center in Minneapolis, Osayande gave each a plain white shoe molded from plaster. The high-heels would serve as canvases in a new exhibit called "A Mile in My Shoes."
Osayunde is leading the project which aims to showcase biographies of local black women. But instead of documenting their ups and downs via pen and paper, participants use paint, glitter and other art supplies to transform the plaster shoes into personal profiles. The finished shoes are on display at Obsidian Arts through Dec. 1.
"You'll see that the heel of my shoe is dark," Osayande said of her own creation with the group. "And it has teardrops and it just represents the undercurrents, the transitions, the things that I went through.
"It's about telling your story without telling me," she said. "You're working with images here. And when you work with images, you can be very, very safe. Sometimes that alone will give the person a feeling of relief -- just getting something out of them that's maybe been stored up inside of them for years."
The heel of Nancy Lee's shoe is covered with gold glitter. Black paint takes over where the shimmer ends.
"I started out as a bright child and then the darkness that enveloped me," Lee said. "It's hard to be bright and shiny when things are happening around you as a child that you don't have control over. So that's what I hope to signify by this."
“It's about telling your story without telling me... You're working with images here. And when you work with images, you can be very, very safe.Esther Osayande
A plaster pump sprouts baby blue feathers. On another shoe there's a beach scene, painted from arch to toe. Many shoes boast symbols: dollar signs, peace icons and bright red pairs of lips.
Shalette Cauley-Wandrick glued multicolored beads along her shoe's sole.
"Ooh, ooh! My beads are fallin' off," she exclaimed. "That's about me and I can't be fallin' apart. It looks like I'm fallin' apart right now."
The footwear designs range from literal to extremely abstract. But each shoe represents a unique life path -- be it sharecropper or single mother.
"I'm trying to get myself back into life," said Myrtle Anderson.
Anderson layers her shoe-shaped canvas with dozens of gold star-stickers. The Arkansas native joined the community art project as a way to connect with others.
"I have been secluded, wouldn't talk to nobody," she said. "My daughter passed on the first of the year. So I got my grandson and I'm trying to be a role model for him. He's 12."
To some, the phase "walk a mile in my shoes" is a tired cliche. But, for participant Chevon Johnson, there is no better inspiration.
"Literally, if you think about what holds us up on a real tangible level, it's our shoes that carry the weight of our journey," Johnson said.
The shoe-shaped self-portraits also are great catalysts for conversation, Osayande said.
"It's like you have women mentoring other women and they don't even know it," she said. "But they don't feel alone and I think that's the most important thing, like 'Wow, what I'm going through I'm not by myself.'"