Gardner Installation Shines Light on Global Displacement

Mounted on the facade at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is an image accompanied by the words “Global Displacement: 1 in 100 worldwide are displaced from their homes.” The photo, taken using a drone, shows a bird’s-eye view of an inflatable ship carrying refugees, all of whom gaze up toward the viewer. The outdoor exhibit, Untitled, is on display from Jan. 17 through June 27 and is part of a city-wide effort to explore the way Boston has contributed to and used technology in art.

Exhibits have been cropping up around the city in conjunction with the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today, which is on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art. The program “examines how the internet has radically changed the field of art, especially in its production, distribution, and reception,” as stated by the ICA’s website. Other contributors include the Harvard Art Museums, Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of Science.  

“There are hundreds of these images circulating online,” said Pierrana Cavalchini, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in a press release. “The refugee crisis is on-going and shows no sign of abating. For so many of these people, there is still no place that will welcome them.”

Cavalchini noted that although people typically think of refugees being in nations abroad, there are regions in the U.S. that are facing refugee crises. The recent hurricanes in the South, the wildfires in California, and even the flooding in South Boston after a blizzard in early January have displaced people from their homes.

The installation was created by Judith Barry, a current professor and director of the Art, Culture, and Technology (ACT) Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  As reported by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Barry has been awarded the Kiesler Prize for Architecture and the Arts, “Best Pavilion” at the Cairo Biennale, and the Guggenheim Fellowship. Her expertise has taken her to teaching positions at Merz Akademie in Stuttgart, Germany, as well as the MFA Visual Arts Program at Lesley University College of Art and Design in Cambridge, Mass.

Barry created this image because it symbolizes the hope that many refugees continue to hold despite their treatment and misfortune. While most of the people looking up simply lock eyes with the camera, one man near the edge of the boat extends his arms, as if waving for help or asking to be lifted out of his crisis. Barry told the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum that this shot is one of anticipation.

“Looking up, these asylum seekers greet the effortlessly hovering drone with a mixture of relief and elation—even though the drone is unmanned and not human, and even though the resulting encounter is no guarantee of a rescue or of entry into another country,” Barry said.




The piece hangs in the form of a 34-by-16-foot canvas outside the museum. This often proves challenging for artists to accommodate due to its length-to-width ratio. The open-air gallery was created when the building was made, as the designers wanted to institute a public art space rather than hang advertisements. Barry is the first featured artist who was not a part of the Artist-in-Residence program, which cultivates relationships between artists and the museum. The pieces on the facade change every six months, and the search for June’s new piece is already underway.

Cavalchini believes that the space is perfect for Barry’s work due to its open nature and exposure to the general public. The museum resides in the middle of a “student haven,” with people from MassArt, Northeastern, Simmons, and Emmanuel, among other schools, in the immediate vicinity. While the image is colorful and eye-catching, Cavalchini did express that Barry made the words slightly difficult to read intentionally.

The piece should make people pause. Ultimately, Barry’s intention is to stop commuters on their way to work, to attract students on their way to class, and to captivate visitors to the city. The hope is that it will spark a conversation about the refugee crisis and what we are, or aren’t, doing about it.  

“Deep, open, intimate discussion about issues would be very healthy,” Cavalchini said.    

The safety and openness of a public museum is what Cavalchini believes best supports the power of its pieces. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum regularly hosts “Third Thursdays,” which work to attract young people to the museum to talk about the messages they see in the artistic and cultural exhibits on display.  

“In the comfort of our city, we need to be aware of what is happening both across the country, and across the world,” Cavalchini said.

Featured Image by Colleen Martin / Copy Editor

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Colleen is a copy editor and writer for The Heights. She is from Long Island, NY and loves her goldendoodle, black coffee, and the ocean. She would like to set the record straight and say that redheads have the most fun. You can reach her at [email protected]