Shelter can mean a home, a community, or the people and places that make us feel safe and welcomed. It can signify belonging, refuge, comfort — the affective pillars on which a home is built — or provoke commentary around issues of housing insecurity, economic precarity, and displacement. The idea of shelter speaks to collective human experience yet differs across individuals, communities, and cultures. Inside the galleries of the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, the nuanced meanings of shelter bear out in the work of 11 contemporary artists.

More Than Shelter — the third iteration in a series of exhibitions examining basic human needs — offers an interconnected visual conversation between artists, field experts, and nonprofit organizations from across the Hampton Roads region, who joined forces to investigate issues ranging from homelessness to immigration, from racial disparities in housing to biodiversity and sustainable infrastructure. The resulting artworks, symbiotically developed through these months-long partnerships, contemplate what it means to have shelter and what it’s like to live without it.

Erika Diamond, “Hoodie for Queer (In)Visibility” (2022), reflective vinyl (courtesy of the artist, photo by Echard Wheeler)

Partnering with StandUp for Kids, a nonprofit committed to ending youth homelessness, Erika Diamond created a quilt, backpack, and jacket fashioned from mirrored vinyl, the objects’ rigid reflective surfaces and soft flannel lining aiming to evoke the lived contradictions and vulnerabilities of LGBTQ+ people. Rosa Leff’s handcrafted papercuts provide a window into the neighborhoods and homes of Puerto Rico, the hardships borne by the island’s residents in the years following Hurricane Maria, and the resilience that has driven their efforts to rebuild. Partnering with the YWCA of South Hampton Roads, Erin Fostel documented the interior of an emergency shelter for women and families, intending to convey the transitory nature of this sanctuary for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

The exhibition spans mediums, cultures, and ideas, presenting 11 thought-provoking visual responses to the question, “What does shelter mean to you?”

Erin Fostel, “Room #3, May 12, 2022, YWCA South Hampton Roads Emergency Shelter” (2022), charcoal and graphite on muslin (courtesy the artist)

Organized by the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art and curated by Alison Byrne, Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Education, and Heather Hakimzadeh, Senior Curator and Special Projects Manager, More Than Shelter is on view now through February 5, 2023.

Visit virginiamoca.org for more information.

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