Hostile Terrain at Texas State University.

The Hostile Terrain 94 Exhibit: Tracking Migrant Deaths Across The Border

By Andrea Mau
Web Content Contributor

Hostile Terrain 94 is an interactive art exhibit currently held at the Texas State Galleries. The exhibit is a part of the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP) founded by anthropologist Jason De León. This project is focused on educating individuals and raising awareness of the realities of the U.S. border patrol.

Since the border patrol policy “Prevention Through Deterrence” began in 1994, death is a daily occurrence on the U.S. and Mexico border. The exhibit brings attention to these migrant deaths by enlarging a map of the dangerous territory in Arizona where countless lives are lost every day. 

Hostile Terrian 94’s map at Texas State Galleries.
Hostile Terrain 94’s map at Texas State Galleries. Image retrieved from Texas State Galleries.

Participants place toe tags representing over 3,200 real individuals onto a map where their bodies were found. On the toe tags, participants write the personal information of the deceased including their name, age, location of death, and cause of death before it is placed on the map.  This helps participants envision the true magnitude of lives ended since the 1994 U.S. border policy.

Because of COVID-19 precautions, individuals and groups can now only book online appointments to experience the exhibit. One can sign up by visiting their website and picking up their tags at the Gallery Monitor or by mail.

Hostile Terrian 94’s toe tags at Texas State Galleries.
Hostile Terrain 94’s toe tags at Texas State Galleries. Image retrieved from Texas State Galleries.

At the beginning of this month, I was able to participate in this activity and the experience was transformative despite the gallery’s transition to an online platform. The process of writing each cause of death was the most impactful aspect to me, as I had to confront the extent of each person’s suffering before death.

Hostile Terrian 94’s toe tags at Texas State Galleries.
Hostile Terrain 94’s toe tags at Texas State Galleries. Image retrieved from Texas State Galleries.

My group’s facilitator Ashton also provided valuable information about the exhibit as a Texas State Galleries employee. Ashton emphasized throughout the activity the importance of participation in the exhibit.

“The participat[ation] is the most important aspect of the exhibition not just because without the participation we wouldn’t have the exhibition but because the objective really is to memorialize these individuals,” said Ashton.

Hostile Terrain 94’s toe tags at Texas State Galleries. Image retrieved from Texas State Galleries.
Hostile Terrain 94’s toe tags at Texas State Galleries. Image retrieved from Texas State Galleries.

Ashton also highlighted that the objective of the project is to spread awareness among the American public of the deaths happening on U.S. land as a result of border policies and to fully honor those that have passed thus far.

“The point of this project is to get people to come together and participate in this activity of writing down the names of those who have died in the Arizona desert and bear witness to the humanitarian crisis that’s going on at our border,” said Ashton.

“We want to acknowledge that these deaths were people. They weren’t just numbers on a sheet of paper. They were people who had families, stories, [and] lives. In some cases, their families don’t even know that this happened to them so we want to take time to give honor and respect to these individuals.”

Exhibits such as Hostile Terrain 94 and programs like UMP are great sources of education on relevant humanitarian issues. Support the gallery and cause yourself or with a group by participating in their online workshops of the exhibit.  

Featured image created by Andrea Mau with images from Texas State Galleries.

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