Feel the crisis – Immersive exhibits that make refugee life hard to ignore

For this blog post we explored three different live exhibitions which use interactive features, art and technology to educate visitors on the lives of refugees and those displaced by war.  

The three exhibitions we looked at were:

  • “Forced from Home” an exhibit put on by Doctors Without Borders in 5 different cities across the U.S. that replicated a refugee camp.
  • 25 Meters of Syria a collaboration by the Norwegian Red Cross and Ikea, which recreated the home of a single Syrian mother affected by the war.
  • Laundromat an art installation of collected refugee clothes and objects by the famous Chinese artist Ai WeiWei.



This past weekend residents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the U.S. were able to visit a mock refugee camp put on by Doctors Without Borders. The interactive outdoor exhibit wrapped up a live advocacy campaign put on by the medical humanitarian organization called “Forced From Home” and happened in 5 different cities in the U.S from September to November of this year.  

The exhibit allowed visitors to explore what life is like for refugees at various points in their journey from the decision to flee violence, to how they decide to make their journey and to what life is like in a refugee camp.  Visitors to the exhibit are also given the opportunity to watch one of several Virtual Reality films documenting the lives of several different refugees around the world.

The exhibit, was hugely successful and saw over 15,000 walk through it’s gates.  The campaign focused on educating these visitors on the importance of the work being done by Doctors Without Borders in conflict zones


The second exhibit we looked at is a collaboration between the Norwegian Red Cross and IKEA called 25 Meters of Syria.  The project has recreated the cinder brick home of Rana, a mother of four, who fled to a suburb outside of Damascus when the the war reached her family’s home town in another part of Syria.  The exhibit was installed in Ikea’s flagship store outside of Oslo, Norway and is an exact replica of Rana’s home with her sparse belongings.  The installation is set-up like the stores other showrooms and even used the stores product tags to tell the story of Dana’s family and how they have been impacted by the war.

The campaign has been hugely successful with news outlets like the U.K. paper the Independent reporting that the store had over 40,000 visitors in October with many of them coming just for the exhibit itself.  The overall fundraising effort for the work the Norwegian Red does in Syria brought in 19 million pounds.


Last but not least we explored Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s powerful exhibit “Laudromat”, which is an installation of thousands of objects he collected from refugees, which were stranded at the informal Idomeni camp in Greece.  The exhibit is housed with the renowned Deitch Projects art gallery in NYC.  The gallery space is filled from ceiling to floor with a sea of carefully curated garments, blankets, shoes and other items.  

The power in the exhibit is that it shows the overwhelming magnitude of the refugee crisis.  Viewers are confronted with sprawling rows of items, which represent the sheer numbers of those displaced by war and conflict. It also is continuation in a series of projects the artist is doing around refugee issues like one with life vests addressing the dangerous sea migration route for refugees in Berlin and an upcoming documentary he is helping to produce. The exhibit is on display now until December 23rd.

By Dave Thatcher

Dave is currently a student Metropolitan State University of Denver focusing on convergent journalism and multimedia advocacy studies. He has a strong interest in emerging digital storytelling techniques and new ways to achieve audience engagement and social impact through multimedia. Prior to his multimedia studies, Dave spent several years working in the field of refugee resettlement in the United States. Additionally he worked abroad in Sub-Saharan Africa as protections specialist for human rights defenders. In his spare time, Dave can be found wandering the winding streets of Istanbul in search of the perfect cup of coffee.

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