how architects, artists and designers see shelters

'Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter' at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, until 22 January 2017

December 2016

According to the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), there are 65.3 million displaced people worldwide. That's more than Britain's population of 64 million and close to France's population of  66 million. For that vast number of displaced individuals, a home is a far-off dream and shelter is something temporary that can drag on and on, perhaps for decades, until a solution is found.

This exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York explores these timely issues through bringing together diverse perspectives. Some exhibits reveal how architects and designers have responded to the urgent need to create shelter. Beyond that, it showcases how photographers have documented the global refugee crisis and how artists have reflected on these situations in their personal work. Also on view are humanitarian projects by the UN and NGOs.

Among the architectural projects are the Sandbag Shelters designed in 1995 by Iranian-born architect Nader Khalili, Shigeru Ban's Paper Emergency Shelters for UNHCR and a collaboration (in the form of a woven wool panel) between Manuel Herz Architects from Switzerland and the National Union of Sahrawi Women in Western Sahara.

The need for emergency housing is conveyed in the work of German photographer Tobias Hutzler and American photographer Brendan Bannon. Hutzler's 2014 image of the Nizip 2 container camp in Turkey, home to thousands of displaced Syrians, bears a resemblance to Bannon's 2011 image of the Ifo-2 Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya, home to thousands of displaced Somalis. The camps, addressing human rights, evolve into sprawling, makeshift cities.

The works by certain artists, meanwhile, illuminate political conflicts with poignancy. American duo Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello have made a series of prints from copper plates about the controversial wall separating Mexico from the United States. Treating this contention in a humorous way, the artists have re-imagined the wall as a site for horse racing or for growing cacti.

The issue of security and borders is also tackled by Vietnamese-American artist Tiffany Chung. Her oil-and-ink pictures depict poetic, coloured mappings of the number of refugees in different countries, according to information received from the New York Times and UNHCR.