At Home In The World: Exhibit explores shelter, displacement

At Home In The World: Exhibit explores shelter, displacement


Nearly five years ago, when the current exhibition on display at Bentonville’s 21c Museum Hotel began taking shape, museum director and chief curator Alice Gray Stites supposes its theme was perhaps not quite as polarizing a subject — at least, not in America. The more she reflected on it, though, the more aware she became of the issue’s ubiquity.

“Now, looking back, I don’t know that there’s ever been a time when there wasn’t a movement of people seeking a better life somewhere, somehow,” Stites says.

“Refuge: Needing, Seeking, Creating Shelter” opened at the Bentonville museum in October following its debut at the boutique hotel chain’s Kansas City location on 2018. The exhibition comprises paintings, photographs, model trains and boats, sculpture and multi-media works by artists from all over the world to explore the human experience of chosen and forced migration.

“What’s great about this show is that even though each artist has a specific place and story that they are thinking about, you can see a relationship to a global phenomena of people looking for refuge, people looking for better opportunities, people leaving their home,” offers artist Naomi Safran-Hon.

Safran-Hon’s work included in the exhibition is a mixed-media piece that uses, among other tools, lace and cement to probe ideas about the home, intimacy, gender and the relationship between myth and truth. Inspired by a photograph she took of a dilapidated building in the Wadi Salib neighborhood, in her home region of Haifa in northern Israel, Safran-Hon re-creates the photo with paint on a canvas, cuts holes in the canvas, stretches lace over each gash, then pushes cement through the lace to become part of the image.

“In a way, they need each other,” the artist says of her chosen materials. “In my work, if you only have cement, it’s going to fall apart. And if you have only lace, it’s going to have gaps. So they actually enhance each other. The cement becomes flexible like the lace [before drying] and then the lace becomes hard and rigid like the cement. So they have a nice way where they kind of exchange attributes.”

Safran-Hon arrived at cement and lace partially out of necessity — needing a material to support the other — but once she saw the result of their synthesis, the contrast between the two suggested so much more in the work.

The photographed buildings in the Haifa neighborhood were once homes before they were abandoned, not only by the residents, but also by the city and the state, in the late 1950s. It’s the absence of people in Safran-Hon’s work that reminds the viewer these structures, left to decay as a result of the violence in the area, once offered shelter, comfort, home.

“The home is something that we all have a relationship to. Whether you live in northern Arkansas, or you live in Palestine or Israel or Puerto Rico or Canada, we all have a relationship to that space,” Safran-Hon reasons. “And we all sometimes take it for granted, especially if it’s not disputed, especially if we always had a home and will always have a home.

“We never think about those four walls. We don’t think about the plumbing. We don’t think about the electricity. These things only come up when we lose them. Then we start understanding how fragile our lives are and how everything is so interconnected and that we take it for granted.”

“Where are you welcome? Because home is where you’re welcome,” Stites muses. “One of the important points of the exhibition is looking at this vast range of experiences, and what happens in a world of increasing displacement and civil strife and environmental crisis.

“More and more people have to consider the potential for becoming refugees or accepting refugees or thinking about what that means,” she goes on, “and what that means in terms of human rights and the desire for human dignity. How we value life as the world becomes smaller, as we live in a global society, the displacement of people all across the globe is an important issue to consider no matter how and where we live.”

The exhibition also includes work by a Peruvian artist critiquing the power and futility of the Department of Homeland Security; an Irish photographer using heat mapping to render the haunting realities of refugee camps in Greece and Turkey; a Vietnamese artist pulling from his own refugee experience; a South African film director investigating the impact of the slave trade and racial violence; and many other pieces exploring myriad situations of displacement.

“I’m interested, myself, in the story specifically [of this neighborhood], but I think for an audience, it doesn’t really matter the details” of the place, Safran-Hon says, returning to her work.

“The specific history of what happened in Wadi Salib is the history of war, of economic disparity, of gentrification, of urban neglect. The story is particular to Israel — I can tell you this happened here and that happened there — but it’s a human story. It’s a story that we see in many different places. And I think that’s why I was attracted to it. Because I was able, through these images, to find a process that really talked to the heart of what I was interested in.”



‘Refuge: Needing, Seeking, Creating Shelter’

WHEN — On display through September

WHERE — 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville

COST — Free


Categories: Galleries