“In Shelter, twinned steel cages rise to a splayed arch, tall enough to enter, recalling not only soaring Gothic naves, but also the human thoracic cage (each cage has 12 steel ribs). One configuration stands open, its graceful armature repeated in the mirrored floor. But the other, covered with protective ballistic nylon, is pierced by more than a million steel nails, their minatory projections also visible in the mirror below. Throughout these works, Outlaw offers a warning that those who cling to shelter—whether religion or any other “secure” environment—refusing engagement in the uncertainties of the present, risk being impaled by that very shelter.”  —  Excerpt from Dorothy Joiner’s review, Adrienne Outlaw: Troy Plunk Gallery for Sculpture Magazine, p. 77, 1/2009

“One of Outlaws achievements with the Shelter project has been to “capture the spirit” of the phenomenon of the African nkisi n’kondi in a contemporary American context, by engaging with a process of aggregation, evidence by the penetration of millions of nails through the nylon covering, that is, literally, a product of community action, by way of the hundreds of interns and volunteers who have participated in the work’s fabrication. … Shelter emerges as a product of cooperation and dialogue between artists, students and volunteers, but an encounter with its material reality, specifically the nail-and-nylon covered portion, calls forth images of a different kind of social interaction, that of the “hooding” and ‘perceptual isolation’ techniques used by military and rogue interrogators around the world.”  —  Excerpt from Wendy Koenig’s essay, Being Many Together, for Adrienne Outlaw: Seek Shelter Exhibition Catalog, The Art Museum of the University of Memphis, 2007

“… Its exterior resembles a giant, jeweled Faberge egg, an object of aesthetic desire; its interior is a rigid velvet of slender nail points. This half of Shelter invites entry and incites fear; the other half, an open rib cage, is an unthreatening container that raises questions about the minimum requirement for protection.”  —  Excerpt from Leslie Luebbers’ Forward Essay for Adrienne Outlaw: Seek Shelter Exhibition Catalog, The Art Museum of the University of Memphis, 2007

“Inviting and menacing at once, the piece plays on our competing desires for protection and vulnerability. The structure’s foil is an identically sized nail-less frame. Without its teeth, this chamber is somehow less inviting—not a shelter but a cage. It is the menace of Shelter that shocks us out of passivity. The possibility of harm—or at least a snagged sweater—compels a longer look and possibly a touch, instilling at last the kind of intimacy and interaction that Outlaw desires.”  —  Excerpt from Joel Parsons’ review of Seek Shelter for Art Papers Magazine, p. 64-5, May/June, 2007

“Shelter is what it claims to be: an enclosure that invites the viewer into a space to become all but surrounded by a form that is alternately shell-like, cave-like, womb-like or even a many-toothed devouring maw.  … Outlaw creates balance from these disparate possibilities and realizes an impressive work of art that confronts and invites in the same manner as our own lovers, friends, families, beliefs and dreams all offer us shelter and safety, but, simultaneously, threaten us with limits and entrapment.”  —  Excerpt from Joe Nolan’s review of Seek Shelter for Number: an independent arts journal, p. 18, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Spring, 2007

… Outlaw’s work is often a dialogue between vulnerability and strength, how every living thing—either physically, psychologically, or spiritually—seeks shelter. … Clearly she has the patience of a saint since she creates projects, particularly in her public work, that require a year or more to complete, sometimes demanding thousands of hours of labor. Her public art also relies on community, of which she is a huge proponent and willing participant.  —  Excerpt from Sally Schloss’ article, Seeking Shelter with Adrienne Outlaw for Nashville Arts Magazine, p. 6 – 12, November, 2006

“… a million points of light dance on the nail heads that cover Shelter …  More than 350 volunteers worked 10 hours a day for just over a year hammering 1.2 million nails into the nylon mesh of Shelter’s 7-by-3-by-5 foot rib-vaulted frame. Bigger than a rib cage and smaller than a Gothic church, this shimmering piece of sculpture/architecture is just large enough to cup the viewer who steps inside.”  —  Excerpt from Carol Knowles review, Gimme Shelter: Wangechi Mutu and Adrienne Outlaw seek solace in an uncertain world for The Memphis Flyer, Dec. 21, 2006


In one year 300 people joined me in my studio to make Shelter. Sixteen interns joined my studio, which I ran that year as a class, bringing in art professionals to meet the interns and give talks on best practices. At each workshop we asked people to think about who has shelter, who doesn’t and why. We also, ran fundraisers in support of programs that sheltered women as part of our artmaking. Shelter was first exhibited at the Art Museum at the University of Memphis, which produced a catalog for the show.