Amanda Krugliak An Exhibition of the
Estado de Excepci贸n
Jason De Le贸n
State of Exception
Undocumented Migration Project
Stories and objects serve as traces of human experiences. Both have the capacity to be revelatory while at the same time alluding to that which we can never grasp fully as only observers after the fact.
Working on this exhibition, I couldn’t help but think about the biblical Exodus, and the objects and texts inherent to that story. It would seem there are those invested in these discoveries as proof the Exodus story is literal, and there are also the disbelievers who seek proof that it isn’t at all. Then there are postmodernists, who I’d suspect are less interested in tangible proofs and more interested in what it says about us now as a society. And I couldn’t help but recall the remarks of paleontologist Philip Gingerich, with whom Richard Barnes and I had worked some years ago, that proof has little to do with discovery, a finding leads us to that which remains unknowable, and to claim absolute certainty hedges towards the imposter. This is where scientific practice and the creative process meet. The exhibition State of Exception represents a year-long collaboration between U-M anthropologist Jason De León, artist Richard Barnes, and me, the Institute for the Humanities gallery curator, during which we considered how best to curate De León’s Undocumented Migration Project. In 2012, we joined De León in Arivaca, Arizona, accompanying him into the debris fields of the desert. For the purpose of reconnaissance, I traveled first, sending back images and notes to Richard Barnes still in New York. “The road to Arivaca at night is epic, surreal, the landscape idyllic and ominous,” I wrote in one text. Hiking into the desert, watching the field students busy collecting samples, I was struck by how everything else fell away. There was the task of collecting and documenting these objects before them, and the demanding work and the hard data offered the relief of some clarity. The bodily need for water and shade were a constant. Congregating at the cantina in Arivaca after a long, hot day, one couldn’t help but chronicle the disparate cast of characters from the town who had managed to find a way to co-exist.
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Barnes visited next, continuing the conversation, shooting video on location along the border at night and interviewing field students about their experiences. Three days after I returned to Ann Arbor, De León and his students found a woman dead in the desert. They sat with her for hours until the authorities removed the body. Who was she? What brought her to this place, this end? Was she seeking what we all seek, something better, on the other side of things? In this place, this strange stage of limbo, her life is erased without ritual, even in death. There is no question that the work of Jason De León is charged, thoroughly engaging in its timeliness and relevance to politics and culture. For some it is a zeitgeist, a cleared path for border activism. For others, these objects serve as no more than detritus, trash. Many may see this exhibition as a study of aesthetics, materiality, and practice. However, the exhibition State of Exception attempts to consider the journey of migrants through the deserts of Arizona from all sides, like a puzzle, turning it over, and then again. It emphasizes the ambiguity and complexity of a situation that is as ongoing and endless as the border fence itself. It is determined as much by geography and race as by coyotes, border patrol, and Samaritans. It is rooted in hopefulness and dreams, as well as commerce and enterprise. And although exceptional in terms of its particularities, it is as significant as any other cultural migration.
And what of these objects stored in U-Haul boxes now? What agency? What result? Is a backpack from the desert as affecting as a suitcase from the Holocaust, this exodus as poetic as another? Do the sagging straps and weighty backpacks represent human strife or R.E.I.? Are the barely there remnants of ID cards, bus tickets, and photographs profound or mundane? The overwhelming desire to be sure, to believe in something or someone, has little to do with the Holy Grail, let alone the finding of it. In the end, we have tried to accurately represent Jason De León’s research over these past five years in the hope of engagement and perhaps enlightenment. �
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We find her at N31˚44’55” W111˚12’24”. Her from Ecuador who died while trying to cross the summer of 2012. I am hiking with eight students has seen a corpse before because someone asks the dirt . . . She is wearing brown sneakers, black shirt. She has been dead only a few days and is decomposition: “Gray to green discoloration, some black discoloration of arms and legs.” Against the buzzing of flies busily laying eggs on her, in escaping from her bloated and distended stomach. I count at least four of them and marvel at how close to the body and awkwardly scribble down wind whips across her body sending the sweet nostrils and mouth. You can literally taste la muerte. her body has begun to change. Her skin has started beginning to obscure some of her physical features. unfamiliar shapes and colors, her striking jet around her right wrist hint at the person she and we use it to cover her up. It makes those
name is Marisol. She is a 41-year-old woman Sonoran Desert of Arizona on foot during the when we find her. It is obvious that not everyone if she is really dead . . . She is lying face down in stretch pants, and a long-sleeved camouflage in what forensic anthropologists term early flesh relatively fresh . . . Bloating . . . Brown to the quiet backdrop of the desert you can hear her. There is a steady hissing of intestinal gases High above us turkey vultures circle her corpse. quickly they have arrived on the scene. I get more field notes. As I lean in to look at her, the smell and taste of rotting flesh directly into my After several days in the sweltering summer heat to blacken and mummify and the bloating is While parts of her are starting to transform into black hair and the pony tail holder wrapped once was. I ask a student to get out a blanket of us still alive feel better. *All names are pseudonyms
Jason De León
I go and sit with my students under a tree a the sheriff to arrive. Someone starts crying into the distance to be alone. We sit for what circle overhead. They are somehow simultane complex human drama playing out below them. meal. I want to say something to our group that peaceful or dignified. It’s a ridiculous thought. that doesn’t sound contrived. Months later some the photo I showed of this woman’s dead hand the types of deaths that migrants experience in That is the point. This is what “deterrence” looks is both a denial of the harsh desert reality and a
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short distance from the body while we wait for uncontrollably, someone else angrily walks off seems like an eternity. The vultures continue to ously implicated in (and yet oblivious to) the All they know is that we have disrupted their will give us comfort or make this death seem There is nothing that you can say in this scenario one will corner me after a talk and complain that robbed her of her dignity. I will point out that the Sonoran Desert are anything but dignified. like. To paint these deaths in any other way disservice to those who experienced it. ďż˝
Photograph by Richard Barnes
About the Project
In 1995, the U.S. federal government began an immigration enforcement strategy known as Prevention through Deterrence (PTD) along the southern border. This strategy increased security in unauthorized crossing areas surrounding urban ports of entry such as El Paso and San Diego. The goal was to shift undocumented border crossers towards remote border regions such as the Sonora Desert of Arizona, where security is less intense but crossing conditions are more difficult. The U.S. Congressional Research Service notes: “Prevention Through Deterrence”…has apparently accomplished its goal of rerouting unauthorized aliens away from urban areas and towards more remote areas of the Southwest border, making the journey more difficult for aliens and thereby affording the Border Patrol with more time to make the apprehension (Haddal 2010:15).
Jason De León
Arizona has since become the busiest crossing point along the southern border. Those who enter through this region often walk long distances (upwards of 70 miles) over several days, while simultaneously negotiating an inhospitable desert landscape characterized by extreme environmental conditions (summer temperatures often exceeding 100°F and winter temperatures that can reach freezing), rugged terrain, border bandits who rob and assault people, and coyotes, human smugglers who may abandon clients in the desert. Migrants must also evade Border Patrol who employ sophisticated ground and aerial surveillance technology to detect and capture people. As the PTD strategy shifted undocumented migration towards the deserts of Arizona, the human smuggling industry in the neighboring state of Sonora, Mexico grew to deal with the influx of migrants to
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Map of Undocumented Migration Project’s study area. The light gray rectangular areas designate national forest and federal nature reserve lands. The dark shaded circle around the town of Arivaca represents the approximate boundaries of the archaeological survey area.
Tucson Three Points
Area of detail shown at right
ZON A XIC O
the region. Smugglers, vendors, and local manufacturers began to capitalize on migrants who needed guide services, temporary housing, food, and equipment. The goods now associated with border crossing include camouflage and dark-colored clothing, specialized water bottles, first-aid equipment (gauze, muscle cream, pain relievers), high salt content foods, hydration beverages, religious objects (prayer cards, votive candles) and many other items. Some of these items are featured in this exhibit. Two decades of research has shown that PTD has failed to deter migration, but has succeeded in shaping border crossing into a wellorganized, dangerous, and violent social process. Moreover, the correlation between this enforcement strategy and migrant fatalities has been repeatedly acknowledged by academics, activists, and the federal government. A recent congressional assessment of border security notes: This evidence suggests that border crossings have become more hazardous since the â€œPrevention through Deterrenceâ€? policy went into effect in 1995, resulting in an increase in illegal migrant deaths along the Southwest border (Haddal 2010:25). Since 2000, approximately five million people have been apprehended trying to cross in southern Arizona and conservative estimates tally the number of migrant deaths at 2500. It is impossible to know how many have actually died during this process given that many bodies go unrecovered because of the remote location where people often expire, the rapid rate at which bodies decompose in the desert, and the lack of any concerted effort on the part of the federal government to recover the corpses of these non-U.S. citizens. Started in 2009, the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP) is a long-term anthropological analysis of clandestine border crossings between Mexico and the United States. The UMP uses a combination of ethnographic, archaeological, and forensic science approaches to understand various aspects of unauthorized border crossings including the many forms of violence and suffering that characterize the process, the distinct experiences of migrant sub-populations (women, children, LGBT, non-Mexican nationals), and the evolving material culture associated with crossing. The artifacts and anthropological data presented in this exhibit were collected by the dozens of undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and others who form the backbone of this collaborative endeavor. The title of this exhibit, State of Exception, is a reference to the political theory of the same name. This theory was first outlined by Carl Schmitt
and later elaborated by Italian political philosopher Giorgio Agamben (2005). State of exception refers to the process whereby sovereign authorities declare emergencies, often with the stated goal of protecting the state, in order to suspend the legal protections afforded to individuals while simultaneously unleashing the power of the state upon them. This theory has been a particularly salient concept for those working on the margins of nation states where the tensions of sovereignty and state security are both geolocated and visibly acted out on a daily basis as governments seek to keep out “illegal aliens” (i.e., non-citizens) through a variety of extraordinary measures. We have chosen to call this exhibit State of Exception because we find the vast Sonoran Desert and the many social, political, and economic processes related to migration that occur there to be both exceptional (uncommon, not ordinary, deviating widely from a norm) and representative of the ways in which sovereign powers can justify treating non-citizens in exceptional ways. To be clear, undocumented migration is a complex and global process that cannot be reduced to one narrative, artifact, data set, or political opinion. One of goals of the UMP is to offer nuanced, yet perpetually fragmented (literally and figuratively), insights into the realities and complexities of undocumented migration through ethnography, archaeology, and forensic science. � Bibliography
Agamben, Giorgio, 2005 State of Exception. University of Chicago Press. De León, J., C. Gokee, and A. Forringer-Beal, In Press “Use Wear, Disruption, and the Materiality of Undocumented Migration in the Southern Arizona Desert,” in Migrations and Disruptions: Unifying Themes in Studies of Ancient and Contemporary Migrations, eds. T. Tsuda and B. Baker.
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De León, J., C. Gokee, and A. Schubert, 2012 “Site (De)Formation Processes and Taphonomies of Violence: The Sonoran Desert, Undocumented Migration, and the Hybrid Collectif of ‘Prevention Through Deterrence’” Paper presented at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association (San Francisco, CA.). Haddal, Chad C., 2010 Border Security: The Role of U.S. Border Patrol. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress. Reitz, E.J. And E .S. Wing, 1999 Zooarchaeology. Cambridge University Press. Photo on previous page by Richard Barnes; backpack installation by Amanda Krugliak and Richard Barnes.
There isnâ€™t a line . . . no crossing, No checkpoint, No cop.
No running fence between us, No floodlight, No God.
Just a place for the asking, A small space, An exception. A lean-to,
Makeshift, Amanda Krugliak
A shelter, A wash.
â€œWe walked for five days. . . . We ran out of food and I got very sick from walking so far. My blood pressure of a wash. . . . We ran out of water but were able to we drank it anyways. . . . We ended up throwing away day. We put all our water into one backpack and took In the end I think we walked more than 60 miles. and I finally made it. . . . I keep this backpack as a Photograph by Richard Barnes
Memo, 43-year-old Mexican migrant
Photo: Michael Wells
spent the last two days without anything to eat. . . . dropped very low while I was trying to climb out find a cattle tank. . . . The water was very dirty but our backpacks and our extra clothes on the fourth turns carrying it for a few hours at a time. . . . This was my fifth time trying to cross the desert memento of that last trip.â€?
Photographs by Richard Barnes
Animal Scavenging and Scattering and the Implications for Documenting the Deaths of Undocumented Border Crossers in the Sonoran Desert. Journal of Forensic Sciences.
Beck, J., I. Ostericher, G. Sollish, and J. De Le贸n
Since 1998, over 5,500 people have died while attempting
to cross the U.S.-Mexico border without authorization. Despite the high volume of deaths, little experimental work has been conducted on Sonoran Desert taphonomy. In this study, pig carcasses were used as proxies for human remains and placed in different depositional contexts (i.e., direct sunlight and shade), which replicate typical sites of migrant death. Decomposition was documented through daily site visits, motion-sensitive cameras and GIS mapping, while skeletal preservation was investigated through the collection of the remains and subsequent faunal analysis. Our results suggest that vultures and domestic dogs are underappreciated members of the Sonoran scavenging guild, and may disperse skeletal remains and migrant possessions over 25m from the site of death. The impact of scavengers and the desert environment on the decomposition process has significant implications for estimating death rates and identifying human remains along the Arizona/Mexico border.
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Above Turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) were observed on the first day of this experiment, perched in a tree in close proximity to the Sun Pig site. However, it was not until thirteen days after death that a vulture was recorded approaching the carcass. A solitary vulture was documented circling the carcass on the 13th, 14th, and 15th day after death, but did not make any direct contact with the pig. At 12:49am on July 1 (17 days after death), two coyotes were filmed briefly feeding off the carcass. Seven hours later, at 7:38am, six vultures
were observed feeding on the Sun Pig. An hour later at 8:49am, eight vultures were observed feeding and this activity continued until the sun set. By 7:23am on the morning of July 2 the carcass was completely skeletonized and disarticulated. In addition, the clothing and personal effects were widely dispersed and pulled out of range of the cameras. For two days after the initial skeletonization, vultures were recorded circling the area where the pig was deposited and moving skeletal elements across the site.
Below For three consecutive nights a solitary coyote circled the carcass and sniffed it. Seven days after death, a domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris) from one of the nearby residences was caught on camera chewing part of the intestines that had ruptured through the stomach lining. Given that many migrants often die near rural residences while seeking help, domestic dogs may be contributing to the disarticulation and consumption of human bodies in Southern Arizona.
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De León et al., in press
“The microfacts recovered from BK-03 consisted of small overlooked items (e.g., coins, thread), fragments of broken objects (e.g., lotion bottles, glass jars), and whole pieces of larger items (e.g., shoelace, shirt sleeve, backpack strap holders). In order to investigate how these materials may relate to the relative numbers of artifacts present at a site prior to clean-up or after years of natural erosion, it was necessary to convert microfact frequencies into a Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI) by adapting an analytical strategy developed for similarly fragmented archaeofaunal remains (Reitz and Wing 1999:194-99). Backpacks, for example, were represented in the material assemblage from BK-03 by some 112 microfacts, including strap holders, zippers, plastic clips, and denim cloth fragments. By comparing differences such as ridging, impression dots, lip shape, and the body shape of these items in reference to a comparative collection, we determined that a minimum of 17 backpacks could have accounted for all such microfacts present at the site. This count is striking given that it was initially estimated that BK-03 had over 600 backpacks prior to clean up. Similarly, we calculated MNI for non-fragmented artifacts such as processed food cans, lids, and pull tabs. While the total count of all such artifacts was 142, we found that 29 of the lids and 5 pull tabs could be potentially matched with cans to generate an MNI of 108. Moreover, MNI also helped to reduce the estimated frequencies of cloth, plastic, and metal microfacts that we could not attribute to a major artifact category.” �
Cleaned-Up Site BK-03 (2010) Artifact Category/Type Backpacks Whole Fragment Clothing
Site % (MNI)
112 17 3.67% -
133 92 19.87%
Hat / Accessories
Electrolytes / Sports Drink
Dairy / Juice / Soft Drink
Unknown Cap / Fragment Food Containers
Can, Tuna / Beans
Can, Other / Unknown
Can, Lid / Pull Tab
Plastic Food Wrapper
Condiment Jar Utility Items
Hygiene / Cosmetics
Personal / Recreational Item
Border Patrol Hand Restraint
Plastic / Other
695 463 100.00%
Fifteen-year-old José Tacuri went missing on June 1, 2013. He was with a group of migrants who crossed the border east of Nogales, Mexico on foot. After two days of walking, Jose became sick and stayed behind to turn himself in to Border Patrol. He has not been heard from since. Missing person reports have been filed with the Ecuadoran Consulate, Border Patrol, and The Missing Migrant Project. Members of the Undocumented Migration Project and the Tucson Samaritans are currently involved in an ongoing project to retrace José’s journey in hopes of finding any clues to his whereabouts. If you have any information on José or know someone who can help, please contact email@example.com Name: José Maria Tacuri Ayavaca Place of Birth: Cuenca, Ecuador Date of Birth: 2/7/1998 Last Date Seen: 6/1/2013 Last phone contact with family: 5/28/2013 Last Known Whereabouts: It is likely that José crossed the international boundary east of Sycamore Canyon, south of the Atascosa Mountain range in the Sonoran Desert. José likely separated from his group on the west side of the Atascosa Mountains, probably northwest of Atascosa Peak. Eye Color: Brown Hair Color: Black Height 5’6”-5’7” S t a t e o f E x c ep t i o n
Personal Effects and Clothing: José was last seen wearing Black Air Jordans sneakers, black pants, a black sweathshirt, a black shirt, and black hat with red letters on it. He had a black backpack with him and was wearing a gold chain and carrying a rosary.
State of Exception is a project of the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities, where it was first exhibited in January, 2013.
Published on Jan 17, 2013
Brochure for State of Exception, the first major curation of Jason De León's Undocumented Migration Project.