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'After Shelter' Gathers St. Louisans' Pandemic Reflections For StoryCorps

July 21, 2020 Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis After Shelter
Chris Bauer, Provided by CAM

In January, Derek Fordjour’s first major solo museum exhibition opened at St. Louis’ Contemporary Art Museum. SHELTER features Fordjour’s paintings and sculptures in a space transformed by a dirt floor and corrugated metal walls, a ramshackle look designed to place visitors in the “heart of a storm,” according to the museum, and evoke “notions of safety, crisis, and impending harm.”

Then came an actual storm, as the coronavirus pandemic plunged the world into crisis. Museums across the U.S. shut down for months, CAM among them. 

Now the museum is again open for visitors, with extensive safety protocols. And for its final seven weeks of display, SHELTER has gained a new component, one that connects its themes to the way St. Louisans sheltered at home during CAM’s hiatus.  

Called After Shelter, the “microprogram” invites guests to share audio reflections on the artwork, the last four months and the future they now envision. 

As CAM’s Chief Curator Wassan Al-Khudhairi explained on St. Louis on the Air, SHELTER’s core components — from Fordjour’s vibrant paintings to the dirt floor beneath them — remain the same. But the way we perceive them may have changed. 

“The way our context shifts our perspective allows us to access the work in a completely new way,” she said.

With its uneven floor and repurposed materials, Fordjour’s exhibition places museumgoers in a “vulnerable state,” Al-Khudhairi explained. “And that sense of vulnerability is how we’re all feeling now. I think a lot of people in our communities feel that way normally, but everybody can say they feel some sense of vulnerability now.”

Listen:

CAM is archiving the audio recordings and sharing them with StoryCorps. The nonprofit aims to preserve and share humanity’s stories and plans to add them to its archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The audio recordings from CAM patrons are also available online, with a compilation by St. Louis on the Air producer Emily Woodbury airing as part of the conversation with Al-Khudhairi.

Al-Khudhairi said she’s intrigued to think of people listening to the recording decades from now. 

“We’re living in unprecedented times, and I think that people in the future will want to not just read the newspaper headlines about what happened, but to really understand how it affected people on an individual basis, and formed a personal experience,” she said. “I think this is going to be that opportunity, for [future generations] to make a very human connection with someone from the past to really understand what that experience has been like.”

Related Event

What: After Shelter at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

When: Through Aug. 23

Where: 3750 Washington Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108

How has the coronavirus changed your perceptions of shelter? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to talk@stlpublicradio.org or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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