“Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter”

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street
October 1, 2016–January 22, 2017

Manuel Herz Architects and the National Union of Sahrawi Women, Woven Panel, 2016, wool textile, 98 1/2 x 102 3/8''.

This necessary exhibition presents architectural and design responses to an increasingly precarious but basic human right—shelter—in our era of mass crisis, emergency, urgency, and hopelessness. The show begins with the immense issue of housing the sixty-five million displaced people and refugees across the globe, and it ends with more ethical questions than it can ever answer. Yet one thing is clear: Nothing on view can ever be a lasting solution to the anxieties faced by the stateless families and individuals who are having doors slammed in their faces at every turn.

The risk of aestheticizing crisis runs high here, but the most interesting works avoid this through representation and not mere documentation. Consider Woven Panel, 2016, a woolen rug made in collaboration with Manuel Herz Architects and the National Union of Sahrawi Women, an organization spread across refugee settlements in southwestern Algeria. The piece depicts the Rabouni camp’s long-standing ministries of defense, interior, and education, as well as a museum. A portrayal of a government that’s been in exile for nearly forty years, the work moreover underscores the tradition of weaving among the Sahrawis.

A disquieting grid in the show presents pictures of historical settlements: from a black-and-white image of Dheisheh, the largest of the Palestine refugee camps in the West Bank after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, to Gordon Welters’s 2016 photograph of cubical-like living spaces in Berlin's Tempelhof Airport. Across the gallery, another grid is offered: found news images of migrants on overcrowded boats in Xaviera Simmons’s Superunknown (Alive in The), 2010. Among the moral dilemmas echoed forcefully around the exhibition there are these: what it means to be in-between, without rights, and, most critically, to be positioned as superfluous.

— Lauren O’Neill-Butler