Sanctuary City

Design | Oct 2017 | BY Tali Jaffe

For-Site Foundation’s Founding Executive Director Cheryl Haines takes us behind the scenes in the making of her latest project, “Sanctuary,” in which 36 artists—including Ai Weiwei, Diana al Hadid, Mona Hatoum and Hank Willis Thomas—created rugs that reflect on the concept of sanctuary.

Please tell us a bit about how “SANCTUARY” was conceived? “SANCTUARY,” though not a serial exhibition was definitely influenced by the two proceeding For-Site Foundation projects “@Large Ai Wei Wei on Alcatraz” and “Home Land Security,” both engaging the viewer in contemporary social issues. It was conceived well before the travel ban that was proposed by the executive branch but appears timely in its presentation.

How was this group of artists decided upon? Having worked in the contemporary art world for three decades, I have known most of the artists for some time, and many have had some experience of displacement, thus they were able to offer thoughtful perspectives on cultural identity, a sense of place and the challenges presented to migrants and refugees.

Sanctuary rug in process. Courtesy of For-Site Foundation.

The word sanctuary is a loaded one, with quite an array of meaning attached. Is there a unifying thread to the 36 works? The notion of Sanctuary is a universal one in regarding both physical and psychological safety, and security and has been fundamental in shaping a sense of selfhood and community identity throughout human history. As such, it provided a rich curatorial framework for interpretation. Some artists have chosen to present their reactions based on this historical quest for a sense of home while others have spoken of their own experience seeking safety and a sense of belonging for themselves and their families. Each artist was invited to participate.

Are there plans for this project to travel? We are hoping to travel “SANCTUARY,” and we are in conversation with a number of possible venues in the U.S. and internationally.

Will there be programming attached to “SANCTUARY” over the course of its run? It is our hope that this exhibition creates a safe space for contemplation, introspection and interpretation. Drawing from the rug’s inherent portability as a textile, it can be mobile, temporary and can be rolled up, transported and deployed as needed. Within the space we are planning a number of programs entitled: SANCTUARY SEASON and it will highlight offerings of music, dance and spoken word during the six-month run of the show.

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