What Dominique Moody’s tiny ‘Nomad’ house says about the environment and African American design
For the next four days, there will be a curious structure parked on the lawn of the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Exposition Park: a roughly 100-square-foot home on wheels built from found objects by Los Angeles artist Dominique Moody.
“Nomad,” as the piece is called, is a functioning tiny house that is also a work of art -- a practical piece of assemblage painstakingly crafted from bits of recycled redwood and Douglas fir, old hand railings, scraps of metal and the many other castoffs (vintage wash tins, a crate of mason jars, a Tibetan meditation bell) that Moody has come across in her travels.
The Nomad -- an acronym for Narrative, Odyssey, Manifesting, Artistic, Dreams -- is indeed Moody’s full-time home. (She is generally parked at the Zorthian Ranch in Altadena.) And through Saturday, she’s hosting an open house on the lawn of CAAM, where visitors are invited to stop in, chat with the artist and see her exquisite mobile dwelling. As part of the residency, she will also host a workshop on assemblage on Saturday afternoon. (RSVP required.)
For Moody, the daughter of an Army officer who had a peripatetic life growing up, the Nomad is as much a tribute to her own itinerant artist’s life as it is a statement about the history of American architecture and our environmentally damaged present. (It was an idea she explored conceptually in the 2009 exhibition called “An Idea Called Tomorrow,” a collaboration between CAAM and the Skirball Cultural Center.)
Dominique Moody shows how to use the hand-pump kitchen sink inside her tiny home known as “Nomad,” crafted from found objects. Moody, a longtime assemblage artist, has parked Nomad on the lawn of the California African American Museum, where she will be in residency through Saturday. The public is invited to visit.(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
A Tibetan meditation bell hangs on the front porch of Nomad, the tiny mobile home crafted from found objects by L.A. artist Dominique Moody. To the rear is a globe suspended in the domed door of an old dryer.(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
A look at the interior of Nomad, Dominique Moody’s 100-square-foot home on wheels made out of recycled materials. This main room functions as sleeping, eating, sitting and cooking area.(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
Nomad parked on the lawn of the California African American Museum. The mobile tiny house will be on view at the museum through Saturday.(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
The food storage and preparation area in the Nomad kitchen area. The counters and shelving units are made from scraps of Douglas fir.(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
A pitcher -- which the artist found in a pile of detritus -- is used for water in the Nomad bathroom. There is also a small camping shower.(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
Industrial washing machine doors on Nomad get new life as windows.(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
Nomad’s recycled materials include bits of wood and these industrial washing machine doors, which function as the mobile home’s windows.(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
The bathroom’s sink doesn’t have a drain or running water; a pitcher is used instead.(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
Nomad’s mailbox is among the pieces salvaged by Los Angeles artist Dominique Moody.(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
L.A. artist Dominique Moody hosts an open house for her mobile dwelling Nomad, which stands for Narrative, Odyssey, Manifesting, Artistic, Dreams. She’s usually parked at the Zorthian Ranch in Altadena, but is in residency at the California African American Museum through Saturday.(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)
The simple, gabled structure that Moody has spent the last three years constructing -- with the aid of countless collaborators and patrons -- is inspired by the shotgun houses historically built and inhabited by Africans and their descendants in the United States.
“These houses are the most economical to build,” she explains. “They don’t have hallways traditionally. That saves in material and resources. And those resources constantly change. It can be earthen in West Africa. And then it can go into the Caribbean and be [made] with a different material. And then it can go a little further into New Orleans and have this French influence. So it’s a migration house. And it’s often built off the ground because we didn’t own the land -- so it’s movable.”
As a nod to these influences, Moody’s Nomad features a prominent porch -- a prototypical American architectural feature that also has African roots.
“The porch did not exist in European architecture in this way,” she says. “It was a way to connect public and private space with a transitional area in between. So that’s why [there’s] the culture of the porch: to tell stories, to share with neighbors, to watch over the neighbor’s kids in the street.”
Put together a cluster of shotgun houses with their generous porches and the effect is that of an African village, she explains.
But Moody’s project is also a nod to the future -- one of environmental challenges wrought by human over-consumption.
The Nomad is made out of recycled materials: rich bits of wood harvested from architectural remnants and industrial washing machine doors given new life as windows. It occupies a small footprint. Its use of water and power is minimal. There are solar panels for electricity and Moody bathes with a small camping shower. The rounded kitchen sink cleans dishes in just 16 ounces of water.
“We know that we have a planet that is in jeopardy -- that it is ill,” says Moody. “We also know that we are not healthy either. So it starts in the home. If we can get healthy in the home, we can get healthy in the planet.”
Historic architecture may provide answers to today’s problems, she says.
“We’re talking about a housing crisis and shelters and affordable living space ... and at the same time we’re talking about climate change and having a smaller carbon footprint,” she says. “We can [use] the past to look at the future and therefore be in the vanguard of that.”
Now her hope is to take it cross-country. Moody, who is legally blind, can’t drive. (She has only 40% of her vision due to a genetic macular degeneration condition that she has had since her 20s.) But she says that she imagines she will be able to find a willing collaborator once she is ready to travel.
“I decided, ‘Build it first,’” she says with a grin, “‘and you will find that person later on.’”
Dominique Moody’s “Nomad” will be on view at the California African American Museum through Saturday. On Saturday, from 1 to 3 p.m., the artist will host a workshop on found object assemblage. Space is limited; RSVP at (213) 744-2024. 600 State Drive, Exposition Park, Los Angeles, caam.org.
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