a(n im)practical guide to cleaning leather shoes and other apparel
Paul Outlaw used the Union Station shoe shine stand as stage, gallery, confessional and workshop in an intimate, durational public performance. Over several hours, Outlaw taught “customers” how to care for his (and their own) leather items, confronting issues surrounding privilege, service, boundaries, eros and entertainment.
“Shine” was a derogatory term of contempt, first coined in 1908 and used to refer to a black person. It may have referred either to glossiness of skin or to the frequent employment and stereotypical image of African American men and youths as bootblacks, or “shoe shine boys.” These workers were seen as servants rather than as persons who needed to make a living or as skilled craftspeople. As a result, shoe shining was one of the few lines of business where blacks held a monopoly for many years.
“Bootblacking” is a term that originated in the 19th century to describe the practice of caring for boots, shoes, and other leather apparel. In recent years, the practice has achieved new prominence in Leather/ BDSM subcultures. A bootblack (male or female) will polish and/or spit-shine a pair of boots, sometimes as a gesture of submission, sometimes as a part of military-style uniform play, sometimes as part of boot worship. (This show of respect for the Dominant’s footwear can involve ritual components and kissing/ licking/sucking or cleaning/polishing.)