Without a Border, Without a Home

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Interactive video still

The perils and strife of being a refugee are the focus of a profound and illuminating exhibition currently showing at the Museum of Modern Art. Works created by artists, architects, photographers and aid relief organizations explore and explain the plight of millions of displaced citizens who suddenly find themselves in less than desirable, but essential, camp locations set up to bring some sense of civilization and order to the personal chaos of their lives.

Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter tells not only personal refugee stories but examines the larger context, pointing out that recent United Nations figures suggest that approximately 65 million individuals across the globe are refugees with 24 people being forced from their homes every minute during 2015 alone.

Temporary (though sometimes long term) housing

The exhibition is broken down into three broad categories—borders, shelter, and camp-cities—and with sensitivity and empathy, provides a view of practical works, such as the modular structure by the UN Refugee Agency which can be unpacked from a flat box and constructed in less than a day. This shelter is weatherproof and can be used to house a family of five or serve as an administrative office or clinic. Unicef’s “School in a Box” is an invaluable aid, providing all supplies needed to continue a child’s education as well as some sense of structure to their daily lives.

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School in a box

Alongside the practical are more artistic pieces, such as one asking refugees to draw a floorplan of the home they remember, even though the abandoned house most likely doesn’t even exist anymore. Reena Saini Kallat’s chilling Woven Chronicle dramatically recreates the world map using electrical wire like yarn and tracing the routes of contract workers, indentured laborers, asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants around the planet with the wiring acting as conduit as well as border.

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A portion of “Woven Chronicle”

Another highlight is an interactive video showing a number of different camps which  abound with incredible stories of the human spirit, including one inspired entrepreneur who started a bakery in his camp which eventually began producing so much bread that he started supplying relief organizations with the staple rather than the other way around.

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Remarkable entrepreneurship

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“Teeter-Totter Wall” is an amusing rendering of a conceived Mexican border wall by architectural firm Rael San Fratello

While poignant, the larger message is more hopeful despite the grim circumstances: as the average stay in a refugee camp is seventeen years, the inhabitants find ways to resume their lives, raise their families, practice their religions, start businesses; all without a significant infrastructure and virtually no government. And while thousands do not survive the hardship, it is a testament to the human spirit and will that many more millions do and hopefully, at some point, find a home of their own once again.

"Shelter, in these unforgiving contexts, is both noun and verb: no longer sanctuary, it has been redefined through constant movement, escape, or fear." Curatorial Staff

See Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter before it closes on January 22.