Refuge Wear City Interventions
Lucy Orta’s (1992-98) Refuge Wear City Interventions combine urban architecture and social activism with fashion design. Her wearable shelters could be described as “survival suits” that function poetically and politically to provoke dialogue and awareness about the connected issues of poverty, homelessness, war, and migration. Her first Refuge Wear prototype “Habitent” (1992-1993) is a tent-like shelter/garment, designed for displaced people who are forced to carry their belongings and shelter with them as they migrate between or within cities (Antonelli, 2005). Through her research with the homeless, Orta learned that many of them were fearful of living in permanent housing or shelters as a result of “traumatic and alienating circumstances they had experienced living with other people” (Quinn, 2002, p. 21). This inspired Orta to appropriate the street itself as an extension of the home by designing mini-environments that people can wear, relocate, and live in without relying on permanent and institutional shelters.
Over the course of five years, Orta produced a series of works she dubbed “Body Architecture,” that doubled as clothing and temporary shelters—often for multiple inhabitants (Quinn, p. 21). These works focused increasingly on diverse communities of people displaced by poverty, famine, and war. By fusing fashion with architecture, art, performance, philosophy, and politics, Orta’s work functions as a social provocation—a symbolic and political protest that artfully exposes public indifference and excess while also revealing the isolation and indignity endured by those trying to survive in our invisible culture.