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Art Beat takes a look at DATMA’s “Shelter” exhibition in New Bedford

DATMA likes big themes

For four years the self-proclaimed “museum without walls” (whose name is an acronym for Design Art Technology MAssachusetts) has presented large-scale, dynamic, ambitious and all-encompassing cultural, scientific and socially oriented exhibitions.

In collaboration with cultural and educational institutions, local and non-local artists, and many others, DATMA has offered really important topics to consider. In 2019 it was Wind.

In 2020 it was Light. Last year there was Water.

All three themes have special significance for New Bedford. To a large extent, wind and water determine the fortune of the fishing fleet and related industries. The city’s motto “lucem diffundo” (from the Latin “I diffuse the light”) alludes to the whale oil that kept the lanterns lit more than a century ago.

Ericka Huggins Liberation Groceries by Lmerchie Frazier

The main theme for 2022 and 2023 is Shelter. But the connection with New Bedford may not seem as clear as in previous years. Once again: great theme. How about the leeward side of the fishing boat? That gold standard hurricane dam? The shelters along the Underground Railroad where runaway slaves sought refuge and a new life? Municipal shelters for the homeless, the hungry and the domestic abused? The harbor itself when the bridge is opened to accommodate boats looking for a harbor during a storm when the storm is in pursuit?

Alison Wells ancestral procession

Under the aegis of DATMA, some of these issues are currently being studied in depth. Some may be next year; maybe some for nothing. It is an expansive venture but I will focus – for now – on only one element in particular and that is the exhibition entitled “Sheltered” at the University Art Gallery of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, UMass Dartmouth Star Store Campus.

Sodade by Meclina Priestly

It features works by contemporary black artists with diverse cultural backgrounds. Curated by the Trinidad-born painter and collagist from New Bedford, Alison Wells, in collaboration with gallery director Viera Levitt, suggests the very concept of refuge in unexpected ways.

Shelter is one of the three primary necessities of life, along with food and water. But being “repaired” involves more than four walls and a roof. It can mean being protected from the troubles, hassles and meanness of the world.

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