• A Nation of Walls
    Chat Travieso

John Vachon, house in front of half-mile concrete wall erected to separate a new whites-only housing development from an existing African American neighborhood nearby, 1941, Detroit. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A Nation of Walls investigates the overlooked history of segregation walls, fences, and road barricades in the United States. Not unique to the south or to a bygone era, these race barriers have been erected throughout the country since the New Deal by public agencies, developers, and white homeowners, often working in tandem and sanctioned by the courts. In the words of a white public-housing official in Houston in the 1950s, the obstructions were intended to separate the races “psychologically and physically.” These obstructions helped harden racial divisions, facilitated police and vigilante intimidation, and forced Black residents to take circuitous routes to fulfill daily needs. From Florida to New York to California, fragments of these structures are scattered throughout the nation to this day, yet there is no comprehensive study of them. This project catalogues the physical remnants and political legacies of these bits of racist infrastructure hidden in plain sight.

Chat Travieso is an artist, designer, and educator. His work considers ways to rethink and transform spaces and objects, which divide into radical meeting places that reinforce social bonds. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic's CityLab, and BOMB Magazine. His artist residencies include those at the New York Studio Residency Program, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) Process Space, and the Smack Mellon Studio Program. He is the recipient of a New York State Council on the ARts (NYSCA) Independent Project Grant; a USA YoungArts Fellowship in Architecture and Design; a New York Community Trust Van Lier Fellowship, as part of his Smack Mellon residency; a Community Arts Fund Grant and a Brooklyn Arts Fund Grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council; a Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Scholarship; and the Matthew J. Quinn Prize, from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. He received a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and an MArch from Yale University’s School of Architecture.