The HT94 exhibition pays tribute to migrants through art

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Handwritten toe tags are part of the Hostile Terrain 94 interactive art exhibit. Photo courtesy of Undocumented Migration Project.

GABI MORANDO | STAFF JOURNALIST | [email protected]

The Hostile ground 94 The exhibit makes its first appearance in Butler at the hands of its coordinator Christopher Luis Paez Reyna, a senior scholar in the theory and practice of social justice. The interactive artwork is comprised of over 3,200 handwritten toe tags that display the information of migrants who died attempting to cross the Sonoran Desert in Arizona between the 1990s and 2019. The tags, color coded as “Identified” or “unidentified” are pinned to a menu of the desert describing the exact locations where remains were found.

Started by Jason de Leon, archaeologist and author of the award-winning monograph Land of open graves: living and dying on the migrant trail (2015), HT94 is part of Undocumented migration project, an initiative to understand the many aspects of unauthorized border crossings. Exhibit installations are currently taking place at a large number of institutions, both nationally and globally, and will run until 2022. Exhibit locations include the United States, South Africa. South, Denmark and many others. For now, according to websiteButler is one of only three locations in Indiana.

History and anthropology professor Ageeth Sluis asked to present the exhibit to Butler and, once accepted, asked Paez Reyna to coordinate the installation of the exhibit. Located in the Irwin Library, Paez Reyna has set up the card and is in the process of filling out the thousands of toe tags. Paez Reyna said he hopes the exhibit will give the Butler community some perspective on the ongoing issues at the border.

“The idea is that while this is unique to the Southwestern United States, phenomena like this are happening all over the world,” said Paez Reyna. “The idea is, it’s not a one-size-fits-all thing, but here’s a representation of what it looks like in your area.”

With the help of volunteers and students from Spanish teacher Terri Carney’s SP320 Service Learning in Spanish class, Paez Reyna estimates that around half of the toe tags have been completed. Inasmuch as Indianapolis Community Requirement (ICR), Carney said his students have been limited in what they have been able to do in the community due to COVID-19 precautions. With the exhibit being directly on campus and with students able to attend, Carney said she hopes her students’ interaction with the exhibit will give them greater understanding and empathy towards immigrants.

“[The exhibit] rehumanizes a group of people who have been kind of emptied of their humanity as a category, ”Carney said. “I hope my students will connect in a real and personal way to what border crossings really are, the deaths that take place. [and] the policies that we put in place that cause the death of other human beings… I hope that personalizes problems for them that are easy to summarize and make moot as if it wasn’t really your problem.

Letitia Bortey, a Spanish junior and biology major, found the most impacting part of the labels to be age. Encompassing a wide range from young children to the elderly, Bortey said the younger ones particularly hit her when filling out labels.

“One of the most important things I think about doing this is what their stories were and just trying to connect with these people,” Bortey said. “Especially when you look at their age and they’re 14 or 13, it’s like the age of one of my younger siblings.”

Having crossed the border himself at the age of eight, Paez Reyna feels bound to the tags of the HT94 exhibition. He described a “sinking feeling” when first filling a label, realizing the weight of the words on the label. Jargons like “skeletal remains,” “fully fleshy,” “gunshot wound,” and “homicide” add to the seriousness of each individual label. In some ways, Paez Reyna said he was strangely comforted to hear about the experiences of others.

“It was a bit isolating to feel like the exception of a group,” said Paez Reyna. “Hearing that this is happening to other people, hearing that other people are also going through what I have been through, and some of it leading to death humanizes me and that part of me that I have always tried to live with. hire me. ”

Paez Reyna said he hopes the exhibition will be completed by the end of November. Planning to have the exhibit in Irwin until the next semester, Paez Reyna is also in the process of hanging paintings and securing a museum-quality display case to display the belongings of the immigrants in addition to the artwork. .


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