‘We must do something’: Artist uses thousands of socks to send powerful message about diabetes

An innovative new art project is shining a light on the devastating effects of diabetes as part of Manchester Science Festival.

The exhibition – now running at Central Library until November 14 – is called Seven Thousands Feet and uses socks to highlight the alarming number of people who lose body parts to the condition each year.

According to Diabetes UK, more than 8,500 have leg, toe or foot amputations every year. The piece presents this by having socks attached to a large scale instillation.

Artist Christine Wilcox-Baker told MM that the personal experience of her grandmother having type 2 diabetes influenced the powerful work.

She explained:  “My grandma had type 2 diabetes and I did not know if I might get it. I started looking into diabetes because I had realised that I did not know much about it.

“I met a diabetes specialist from the Manchester Royal Infirmary’s Diabetes Centre and we spoke about how it’s an epidemic rapidly growing, and we must do something to get people to engage with the condition just like they would do for other diseases like heart attacks and cancers.”

Christine was keen to point out that while diabetes can be very serious, in the majority of type 2 cases it is preventable. Meanwhile, type 1 is not preventable but with careful management the more serious outcomes can be avoided.

POWERFUL: The work can be seen at Central Library

The artist has met specialist researchers and worked alongside many individuals to be able to make this project a success. This includes Manchester Metropolitan University professor Neil Reeves, who has done a lot of research into diabetes and the effects on individual’s legs and feet.

She has also been working closely with Research for the Future, an NHS campaign to encourage people with diabetes to take part in health research.

This is in addition to conversations with Diabetes UK and students from MMU, an institution which is special to Christine because it’s where she did her MA. As a result, she describes Seven Thousand Feet as a “real Manchester project.”

ARTIST: Christine put the installation together to raise awareness

Reflecting on the positive strides being taken in Manchester – including Naseer Ahmad, who part of a MARS (Manchester Amputation Reduction Strategy) project to try and improve blood flow by carrying out procedures such as bypass surgery to prevent people from getting foot ulcers and prevent amputations – Christine said there’s a lot of ‘amazing’ stuff happening right now in the city.

She explained: “There is a lot of good work going on in Manchester, and it’s just amazing what you find out about what goes on. It’s ground-breaking and fantastic.”

When asked how she came up with her own idea, Christine replied: “I think what had happened was that I knew that I needed to represent the number of amputations visually and I wanted to do it in a way that everyone could relate to.

PERSONAL: The piece is sure to evoke reactions from the people of Manchester

“And that’s when I thought that everyone wears socks and if you have had an amputation you only need one. So therefore, if we could get all these socks singly displayed it would mean that each amputation is represented.”

She added how she had many ideas of how to design this, yet this was the one that felt most strong and intimate, any intimacy which is clear from the many comments from patients hanging on the display to allow the public to see their stories.

“It took a while to work out how to create this,” Christine explained.

“With finally being able to conclude having scaffolding and having mesh that each sock is individually stitched on by myself, my husband and everyone that I know and volunteers who have been extremely helpful.”

Christine concluded by saying how it has been a journey getting to know everyone and being introduced to many people during the making of this project.

*Seven Thousand Feet is on display at the Manchester Central Library until World Diabetes Day on Wednesday, November 14.

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