From shelters to first aid: MoMA exhibition looks at designs addressing the refugee crisis

Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter at New York’s MoMA will present everything from photography to product design based on the refugee crisis, with an aim to “expose” reality to exhibition visitors rather than provide “solutions”.

Interior of a Better Shelter prototype in Kawergosk Refugee Camp, Erbil, Iraq. Better Shelter. 2015.
Interior of a Better Shelter prototype in Kawergosk Refugee Camp, Erbil, Iraq. Better Shelter. 2015.

New York’s Museum of Modern Art will open an exhibition looking at how architecture and design has been used to respond to the refugee crisis.

Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter will present various different product and digital designs which have been created for use all around the world.

The exhibition is split into sections focusing on a range of multimedia work, such as shelter designs, first aid products, photography and artwork.

Shelter designs, photography and first aid

Shelter designs range from mass manufactured ones, such as Ikea’s flat-packed, affordable Better Shelter, 100,000 of which have been deployed worldwide, through to natural ones made out of sustainable bamboo which have been used on the Thailand Burma border.

Other examples include housing created by architect Teddy Cruz for the San Diego-Tijuana border, photographer Henk Wildschut’s documentation of “The Jungle” at Calais, multimedia pieces from Vietnamese artist Tiffany Chung focused on migration and a bracelet developed by Unicef to measure a person’s malnourishment.

Exhibition associate curator Sean Anderson says there will be “many different things of different scales”, from this bracelet to a tent to a wall-sized map of the world.

An “incredibly moving project”

Digital installations include a platform called Refugee Republic, which recreates a camp in northern Iraq through a digital map constructed of drawings, photographs, music and videos, allowing “site users to occupy that space”, says Anderson.

“It’s an incredibly moving project which shows people that the camp is an entire functioning city,” he says. “It allows people to occupy the space, rather than look at it from above.”

The Ikea tent has also been set up so that people can walk into it. Alongside immersive digital installations, the exhibition aims to be “consuming” for visitors and make them aware of conditions in refugee camps. “I’m not trying to teach anything, but more expose viewers,” says Anderson.

Not “solutions”

He is also keen to stress that while these products have been created with the intent of helping refugees, he did not want to present them as “design solutions” to a worldwide problem.

“The exhibition includes examples of shelters that are trying to address an issue at hand, a matrix of different approaches to the situation,” he says. “But building 10 shelters doesn’t resolve a problem. Key is also that it is global, and not just focused on Europe.”

The design of the exhibition will be minimal with white walls, “to evoke a more poignant response to the works”. A line will also trace the beginning of the exhibition space, which aims to symbolise the construct of “borders” in both a geographical and political sense.

“The designs are about implicating the viewer, and showing them they can’t be removed from it anymore,” Anderson says.

Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter will take place 1 October 2016 – 22 January 2017 at the Dunn Gallery on the second floor of The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street, New York, NY 10019-5497.

Nizip II, container camp. Tobias Hutzler. 2014
Nizip II, container camp. Tobias Hutzler. 2014
Ifo 2, Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya. Brendan Bannon. 2011
Ifo 2, Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya. Brendan Bannon. 2011
Radicalizing the Local: 60 Miles of Trans-Border Urban Conflict project. Teddy Cruz. 2008.
Radicalizing the Local: 60 Miles of Trans-Border Urban Conflict project. Teddy Cruz. 2008.
Middle Upper Art circumference (MUAC) measuring device. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). 1994.
Middle Upper Art circumference (MUAC) measuring device. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). 1994.
Dunkirk, France. Henk Wildschut. 2010
Dunkirk, France. Henk Wildschut. 2010

Latest articles