For many artists, inspiration springs from unlikely places. For Diana “Didi” Rojas, a pair of clay-crusted Nike Air Force 1’s launched years’ worth of work crafting ceramic shoes, recreating iconic brands, trend-setting sneakers, fun flats, funky heels, and more out of her art studio in Greenpoint.
While studying illustration and communication design at the Pratt Institute, Rojas fell in love with sculpting. She began working at a ceramics studio and was sitting at a communal table one day when she noticed how messy her go-to sneakers had become. Perhaps some would be upset over the caked-state of these popular white shoes, but Rojas saw something else: a challenge. She decided to sculpt a replica of the sneaker and became fascinated with the process of recreating such an identifiable, everyday piece of outerwear.
Q: Do you think it’s changed the way you look at other people and how they choose their footwear and how they dress?
A: “Totally. I think that’s one of my favorite things and observations, seeing which ones people identify with is so interesting… Shoes are such sub portraits of people at times that it’s such an interesting connection to make.”Didi Rojas
Her first solo exhibit occurred in 2019 at Launch F18, titled “You’re Doing Amazing Sweetie” in reference to the well-known Kardashian meme. To Rojas, her shoes are characters with specific personalities, and in this instance, as they sat high on pedestals throughout the gallery, she was a sort of Kris Jenner herself, cheering them on.
This theme of using memes and pop culture to coalesce the essence of her work continued in her second solo exhibit, “Felt Cute, Might Delete Later,” which was on view this past summer, also at Launch F18, where Rojas included wall art pieces crafted from shoelaces, taking more time to explore textiles and their role in her overall work.
“My draw to it was that I had these shoes on display that didn’t have shoelaces, and then there were shoelaces on the wall,” she said. “So it was this idea of the hardness of the ceramic and the softness of the shoelaces on the wall.”
In addition to her solo and group exhibitions, Rojas has also worked heavily with brands to reimagine their distinct qualities, and create artistic representations of their messaging. For example, Rojas has collaborated with brands such as Adidas, Asos, Ganni, Gucci, Nicole Saldaña, Nike, Ssense, Tory Burch, Ugg, Vice, Vogue, and Vogue Italia. Most recently, Vans reached out to Rojas to request her talents to create 120 pieces of the classic shoe silhouette for an installation that celebrated accessibility. With the mission to (literally) take art and fashion off of a pedestal, they gave away pieces of the installation to passersby and those visiting the gallery. Though some have suggested that working with brands is conducive to “selling out,” Rojas thinks otherwise.
“The work itself is really genuine. It was me being really playful and bringing back the ‘fake it till you make it’ type of thing. What was accessible to me was ceramic and clay and then just playing around and thinking ‘let me pretend I have this object that I can make out of ceramic and make it look real’.”
Since departing from her more traditional shoe collection, Rojas has been exploring themes of repetition and quantity.
“I’ve been doing more repetition with the pieces. Mainly I work with images as reference with all different angles of shoes I’m going to make, but most recently it’s been off memory. It almost becomes muscle memory and using the previous piece as reference creates an ongoing cycle… Seeing how these pieces interact with each other, they tell more of a story.”
In the spring of 2023, Rojas will be featured in a group show at the Museum of Art and Design. Her go-to shoe at the moment is a pair of Doc Martin Mary Janes. Find and follow her on Instagram at @0h_heck.