Sneakers: Eco x Ego


30.12.2022. - 30.04.2023.

For Pauls Stradiņš Medicine History Museum, this exhibition centred around sneakers is an experiment of venturing outside the familiar playing field. Peppered throughout with paradoxes of social history, the course of sports footwear development is a subject that helps make better sense of instances where society’s idea of healthy lifestyle is shaped by consumerist dependency on the commodity market. Sneakers are a distinctly equivocal example of this trend. They are both a symbol of simplicity and comfort and an accessory of social prestige, elevated to the status of a global cult object by brand management. 

Regular innovations in the construction of sneakers and choice of materials speak of the manufacturers’ commitment to following the latest orthopaedic findings on healthy human posture. Meanwhile, the rapid succession of new models replacing each other in the sports footwear market leaves an ominous ecological footprint, which has a negative impact on our general wellbeing. Since sneakers are habitually worn not just by sports stars and hip hop icons but also by people of any age and in any number of settings, the exhibition is also an attempt to find the reason behind this hype and hazard a guess as to which aspect will dominate future patterns of sneaker design and consumption: ego or eco?

The selected items on view – from ethnographic 19th-century fetish objects to the Latvian-made 3D printer that continues producing new exhibits during the actual run of the show – comprise an interdisciplinary-approach-based message that aims to reflect the interaction between the sports and culture industries, the mens-sana-in-corpore-sano marketing, and manufacturing technologies. A collection of the Air Jordan series offers the viewer a panoramic overview of changing trends in sports footwear over the last thirty years. The present day, on the other hand, is frequently represented virtually in the exhibition, for example, by sneaker prototypes designed by artificial intelligence, NFT production and gamer features. A prominent place has been given to sustainability solutions: a photographic insight into the adidas laboratories and Asian production plants by Alastair Philip Wiper; a range of novel materials (for instance, faux leather sneakers made from polypore fungi, algae or beans); sneaker merchandising concepts developed to limit consumerism, and new models designed by recycling old footwear. 

The exhibition was mounted by curator Elīna Sproģe in association with the museum team, incorporating contribution by Latvian professionals successfully working in sneaker design development on an international level: Jānis Šnē has been working for Nike since 2021, particularly on projects of its futuristic RTFKT Studio branch; Kristofers Reidzāns after several years at the United Nude design studio and plants in Guangzhou and Los Angeles has now joined the innovation team of the Swiss On sports footwear team. Presenting the historical dimension and curiosities of the sneakers story would not have been possible without the generously provided opportunity of borrowing exhibits from private collections; the list of their owners is a perfect sample of the diverse sneakerhead community: a physiotherapist; a rapper; a basketball player; a shop owner; an art gallerist; a renovator – and so many more. If not always socially critical then definitely ironic counterbalance to the presence of big-name brands at the exhibition is provided by artists: Tommy Cash, Gary Lockwood, Paula Ulargui Escalona, Martin Sallieres, Sander Wassink, Alex Di Giuseppe and Shun Ping Pek.


Public programme

A special part of the satellite programme is an opportunity for school tour groups and families with children to have a go at the sneaker production workshop set up in the museum. Meanwhile, the practical class of the introductory course to reflexology taught by masseur Mārtiņš Lauva will provide you with basic skills in foot massage. Also scheduled are guided tours of the exhibition led by curators, conversations with contributors to the show and a World Wildlife Fund talk on the burden of textile waste and recycling. Genuine sneakerheads will be pleased by a sneaker raffle event with the rapper Ozols and the Hoodshop store, as well as the Air Max Day hosted by Nike Latvia, an annual celebration that is dedicated to the 1987 sneaker model.


Exhibition team:

Curator – Elīna Sproģe
Curatorial support – Kristīne Liniņa, Kaspars Vanags
Research support – Inga Vigdorčika, Mārtiņš Vesperis, Vineta Blitsone
Education – Ieva Laube
Communication – Ilze Sirmā, Līva Kalnača
Exhibition design – Sampling (Liene Jākobsone, Mantens Devrīnts)
Graphic design – Kirils Kirasirovs
Project management – Gerda Čevere-Veinberga
Technical installation of the exhibition – Ideju materializācijas darbnīca, SIA VPT Grupa, SIA Calyx, Romāns Medvedevs, Form Art Lab


Loans from memory institutions and private collections: 

International Olympic Committee's Historical Archives; Latvian State Archive of Audiovisual Documents; Latvian Sports Museums; Riga Bourse Art Museum; Latvian Museum of Photography; Museum of Murjāņi Sports School; Ģirts Rozentāls; Artjoms Belikovs; Gustavs Mellenbergs; Ernests Moruss; Emīls Liepiņš; Aleksandrs Lotovs; Uldis Mākulis; Nazars Neskorodko; Deniss Šuliatevs; Andrejs Dzenis; Leo Lisenko; Didzis Veinbergs


Supported by:

State Culture Capital Foundation; Riga City Council; Rietumu Banka; Future Support Foundation; MHM Support Foundation Society; Nike Latvia; Mass Portal; World Wide Fund for Nature


Informative supporter:



Special thanks to: 

Agris Tamanis, Jeļena Buraja, Dina Grīnberga


Technology partner:


Sneaker exhibition poster featuring the title, sponsors, and a background image of two pairs of sneakers. One pair is hidden behind a curtain, the other is on the bed under a blanket. The entire image is colored in neon yellow.


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