Hostile Terrain 94

StanfordArtMuseums

Hostile Terrain 94 is a participatory art project sponsored and organized by the Undocumented Migration Project. The installation is composed of more than 3,200 hand-written toe tags filled out by the community, each representing a migrant who has died trying to cross the US-Mexico border at the Sonoran Desert of Arizona between the mid-1990s and 2019. The exhibition is installed on the first floor and the accompanying publication was written by both graduate and undergraduate students at Stanford University.

HOSTILE

TERRAIN

94

AT THE ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY


The Anderson Collection at Stanford University is one of more than

one hundred institutions across the world hosting Hostile Terrain 94 in

2020 and 2021. The museum is proud to exhibit this project—directed

by University of California, Los Angeles anthropologist Jason De León—

which grew out of years of social and anthropological research along the

US-Mexico border.

Migration is often depicted in numbers and percentages, without

names or faces or histories of lives lived. Hostile Terrain 94 turns

that data into a visual representation of individual migrants, at once

absolutely horrifying and strikingly beautiful. It is in that beauty that

we are asked to look closer, to look at the black line, the dots, and the

thousands of hanging rectangles as they shift ever so slightly with the

movement of passersby.

It wasn’t until I began participating in the project directly that the power

of Hostile Terrain 94 became clear to me. I had watched videos, read

articles, even seen a prototype of the project in person. Though many

things surfaced for me during my research of this project, not until I

began writing down the names on tags did the people, the words, and

the lives of each individual became so heartbreakingly real for me. I

spent many nights with a cramping hand, copying names of the dead

from a spreadsheet to a toe tag. As the nights went on, my seven-yearold

daughter became more and more interested in the content I was

writing. She began asking to see tags as I finished them, sometimes

reading them in her head and sometimes reading aloud the names of

people whose lives were diminished to a coroner’s note. I wonder how

many people have spoken their names out loud.

This publication is written entirely by students at Stanford University.

The first essay gives an overview of how the project came to be and how

Koji Lau-Ozawa, a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology,

COVER: Toe tags, Hostile Terrain 94. Courtesy of the Undocumented Migration Project.

HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY

1


ought Hostile Terrain 94 to the Anderson Collection. The second

essay, by MFA candidate in Documentary Film and Video Studies Jon

Ayon Alonso, is a reflection on his and his family’s personal experience

of the US-Mexico border. In the essays that follow, three undergraduate

students look at Hostile Terrain 94 in the context of the museum’s

collection. Ekalan Hou, Melissa Santos, and Georgia Gardner use

individual works in the Anderson Collection as conduits for deeper

understanding of Hostile Terrain 94, drawing parallels through the

iconography in a painting, the tactile fragility of a sculpture, and the role

of the grid in contemporary art. Each of the five student participants has

dedicated many months to this project—filling out tags, researching,

reading, looking at art, and writing. These are the same months when

COVID-19 became a global pandemic and students were sent home to

finish the academic year. The murder of George Floyd, which catapulted

the United States into protests and riots, and an impending presidential

election, different from any other, have compounded this already

challenging situation. The Anderson Collection thanks these students

for their dedication and scholarship, which have made this publication

and this project a reality.

Aimee Shapiro

Director of Programming and Engagement

Anderson Collection at Stanford University

Hostile Terrain 94 at the Anderson Collection {installation view}, 2020

2 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 3


BRINGING HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 TO THE

STANFORD COMMUNITY

KOJI LAU-OZAWA

When I first saw the Hostile Terrain 94 installation in a photograph, I did

not understand what I was looking at. As one of my advisors outlined

the meaning behind the mass of orange and tan tags, it dawned on me

that each of those tags represented a life lost as the result of US border

policies. Each signified a life that was filled with triumphs and sorrows,

passions and fears, hopes and disappointments. I was overwhelmed by

the immensity of the loss.

Hostile Terrain 94 is a production of the Undocumented Migration Project

(UMP). Led by scholar Jason De León, the UMP is an anthropological

study of clandestine movement between Latin America and the

United States. Drawing on a range of disciplines, from archaeology and

forensic sciences to ethnography and visual anthropology, the UMP

strives not only to understand the processes of migration and the lives

of migrants but also to educate the public through multiple mediums.

Earlier exhibitions by the UMP—such as State of Exception / Estado

de Excepción, which featured hundreds of backpacks and ephemera

left behind by migrants crossing the US-Mexico border—have been

presented across the United States. While powerful, such traveling

exhibitions are cost prohibitive for many institutions to host, limiting the

public’s exposure to these visual statements.

In response to this challenge, the UMP team developed Hostile Terrain

94 as a multimedia exhibit that relies on community participation

for completion and is much more affordable to host. It consists of

more than 3,200 toe tags hung across a wall map of the US-Mexico

border; each tag is pinned to the map according to coordinates for

Toe tags, Hostile Terrain 94, 2020

4 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 5


the location where the body of a person who died crossing the border

was found. Between 1994 and today, the death toll from attempted

border crossings has risen continuously, driven by the official federal

policy of Prevention Through Deterrence. On each tag, volunteers fill in

information collected from coroners’ offices, detailing the name, cause

of death, and condition of the person found. Tan tags are for those

who could be identified; orange are for those who remain unknown.

What is astounding is not only the striking result—this immense map

of death—but also the exhibition’s wide reach, extending to the dozens

of volunteers who completed the tags by hand: each tag completed

means a life contemplated.

Though our initial plans for intensive in-person programing in the

spring quarter of 2020 were interrupted due to pandemic-related

restrictions, the organizing team did not lose a single step. With a

tremendous amount of effort and time, safety protocols were enacted,

volunteers contacted, and thousands of tags filled out—a testament to

the commitment of the Stanford community, as well as the importance

of the subject matter. Whatever your thoughts about immigration

policy might be, we ask you to look at this exhibit, sit with it, allow it to

overwhelm, and then reflect on the lives represented.

I first heard of Hostile Terrain 94 in January 2019. Understanding the

plan for the exhibition to hang simultaneously at nearly one hundred

institutions across the world, I was eager to get Stanford involved. Over

the next six months, I emailed every department, program, building

manager, and program initiative across campus that I could think

of, asking if there was interest in hosting the exhibit, and a place to

hang the twenty-foot wall map. Most emails went unanswered, and

phone calls unreturned—that is, until June 2019, when my inquiry was

forwarded to the Anderson Collection.

KOJI LAU-OZAWA is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at

Stanford, who studies the archaeology of Japanese American Incarceration.

By July 2019, the Anderson Collection had reviewed the project and

enthusiastically agreed to host the exhibition in fall 2020. By the end

of summer 2019, several colleagues joined with me to create a core

organizing team. Departments and programs joined to cosponsor the

exhibition, including our current partners The Bill Lane Center of the

American West, the Department of Anthropology, The Office of the

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, the School of Humanities

and Sciences, the Bechtel International Center, and the Center for

Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

6 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 7


A CLIFF NEAR CABORCA

JON AYON ALONSO

My father grew up in San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico. The Sonoran

Desert, a landscape of extremes—hot, cold, bright, dark—is his most

familiar terrain. As a child, I made the journey southward to Mexico with

my family many times, our car weighted down with bulk bags of rice,

beans, and flour, our tires overinflated so that the car’s bottom wouldn’t

drag and spark along the road. Our visits felt joyous and celebratory as

we reunited with our family on the other side of the border. It was only

later I learned of the fear that oppressed my father on those journeys.

While interviewing him for a film I made about immigration, he

revealed to me that for fourteen years of my childhood, my parents had

been undocumented. They had kept this fact hidden from me, so deep

was their fear I could accidentally betray them.

Despite never having been expressed or acknowledged, this fear

permeated the fabric of our family. I didn’t have to see gravestones or

fatality rates to be reminded that we were the unfortunately fortunate

ones, and that this fortune came with both debt and duty: a debt to

those who did not make it across, and to the family we left behind;

a duty to make the most of our opportunity living in a capitalist

superpower—a duty to work, to consume, to provide. Homes can be

traumatic places for first-generation immigrant children. They can

buckle and cave from the pressure to make every choice count. You

aren’t allowed to dream in a childhood where dreams have died for

your opportunities. Even now, as a grown man and father myself, I am

influenced by these forces with every decision I make, every opportunity

I accept or decline. I constantly fight my instinct to keep my head down,

stay quiet, and survive. And I often wage this daily fight alone, as one of

the only first-gen Latinx students in my graduate classes at Stanford.

Hostile Terrain 94 at the Anderson Collection {installation detail}, 2020

8 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 9


I still go visit my family on the other side of the border as often as I can.

When I cross the border now, as an adult, I feel my father’s fear at each

checkpoint, with each passing siren. Recently, I traveled south to visit

one of the tribes from which my father descended, the Comcáac, who

live along the Sonoran coast. As I drove down the main highways (paved

over ancient Indigenous trade routes) toward the coast, I stopped at a

huge altar cut into the side of a cliff near Caborca. A mural painting of La

Virgen de Guadalupe looms two stories high, and as you climb the stairs

to reach the mural, you pass hundreds of candles and white stones. Each

stone is engraved with a name; each represents a life lost. Many of those

lost are migrants—victims of unjust trade agreements, imperialism, and

repressive immigration policies. The altar serves as a place of respite and

reflection for migrants taking the journey toward Arizona, as well as a

place for surviving families to mourn. At the time of my visit, the stones

were so numerous they were in piles. I have carried the weight of those

stones with me my entire life; I carry them with me today.

BEARING WITNESS: HOSTILE TERRAIN 94

AND THE COAT II

EKALAN HOU

“No survey is done near the body to look for additional personal effects.

The trail is not checked for other people or corpses. Some photos are

taken and geographic coordinates are recorded. It takes a total of five

minutes.” 1

Such is the extent of the investigation of migrant deaths in the Sonoran

Desert, as anthropologist Jason De León witnesses and recounts in

The Land of Open Graves, and such lack I transcribe onto orange and

manila toe tags. Jaime Pascual Gomez-Ruiz’s pendejadas––his jokes

JON AYON ALONSO is a master’s candidate in Documentary Film and Video

Studies at Stanford University.

Figure 1. Toe tags, Hostile Terrain 94 at the Anderson Collection {detail}, 2020

____________________________________________________

1

Jason De León, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (Oakland:

University of California Press, 2015), 215.

10 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 11


and banter––evaporate and condense into numbers in boxes; his

personality is stripped to a bare scaffolding that medical examiners call

“skeletonization.” The only legal documentation he will ever receive in

this country is a record of his death. 2

Hostile Terrain 94 (fig. 1), organized by the Undocumented Migration

Project, is an installation that documents and plots the structural

violence faced by migrants crossing the US-Mexico border. While

claiming to discourage undocumented entries into the United States,

the US Border Patrol’s immigration enforcement strategy, known as

Prevention Through Deterrence, redirects migrants from urban ports

of entry and compels them to traverse the Sonoran Desert in Arizona,

where the temperature fluctuates between 50 and 120 degrees

Fahrenheit. 3 Border Patrol uses nature as an alibi and disguises migrant

deaths as unfortunate “accidents” that occur on its noble path to

suppress illegal immigration. 4 The dehumanization of these migrants,

who are treated as parasitic numbers on a federal security graph and

whose personal belongings are categorized as “trash” or blights on the

environment that consumed them, is made manifest in Hostile Terrain

94. 5 The impersonal and indifferent toe tags reflect the government’s

elision of the migrants’ personhood––their lives are defined by

identification cards that they will never receive.

Overcoat,” a likely source of inspiration for Guston’s painting, the value of

human life is absorbed by an object. 6

The clerk in Gogol’s story, Akaky Akakievich, is treated by others

according to the condition of his coat. When he wears a “rust- and

mud-colored” coat that is stained with rubbish—akin to the one painted

by Guston—he is ridiculed and overlooked. 7 Similarly, as migrants are

measured by their lack of legal status and their gritty belongings in the

desert, their erasures––sanitation by another name––seem justified.

A painting from the Anderson Collection that explores the difficulty of

surviving in a cruel and apathetic world is Philip Guston’s The Coat II

(fig. 2). The depicted coat, like the toe tags, is synecdochic: it is a proxy

that signifies and displaces the human body; its presence renders the

corporeal invisible and negligible. As in Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The

Figure 2. Philip Guston, The Coat II, 1977, oil on canvas, 69 1⁄8 x 92 1⁄8 in., Anderson

Collection at Stanford University, Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, and Mary

Patricia Anderson Pence, 2014.1.047. © The Estate of Philip Guston, courtesy Hauser &

Wirth. Photo: M. Lee Fatheree.

____________________________________________________

2

The “ML#” on the toe tag—the case number assigned to each migrant brought into the

medical examiner’s office—is an abbreviation for “medico-legal number” [my emphasis].

3

“Background,” Undocumented Migration Project, https://www.undocumentedmigrationproject.org/background,

[July 25, 2020], and De León, The Land of Open Graves, 75.

4

De León, The Land of Open Graves, 274.

5

Ibid., 201.

Both Hostile Terrain 94 and The Coat II document the hostility of their

respective societies. Guston considers the primary function of art as

____________________________________________________

6

Magdalena Dabrowski, The Drawings of Philip Guston (New York: The Museum of Modern Art,

1988), 14.

7

Nikolai Gogol, The Overcoat (London: Merlin Press, 1956), 12.

12 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 13


earing witness to lives “made up of the most extreme cruelties.” 8 His

coat, which wades in blood and whose sleeves rupture into wounds,

betokens Gogol’s critique of the “savage brutality there lurks beneath

the most refined, cultured politeness.” 9 In accordance with Gogol’s

statement, Hostile Terrain 94 reveals the violence that the United

States inflicts upon migrants in the name of national security. By

declaring a “war on immigration” or enforcing a “zero tolerance”

policy, the government pretends to enter into a state of crisis to strip

migrants of their human rights. In a “state of exception,” not only

are the “exceptional” made excludable, killable, and disposable but

the government also reinforces its power. 10 Hostile Terrain 94 resists

justifications for migrant deaths—effectively murders—and demands

justice for the victims who lay rotting on the desert floor––in plain sight

but with no witnesses, human but negligible.

In addition to evincing a reality to which people have been willfully blind,

Hostile Terrain 94 insists on structural and nonmetaphorical changes.

It destabilizes statistics put forth by the government—statistics that

highlight a decrease in illegal border crossings but conceal the death

tally in the Sonoran Desert. It demonstrates the inefficacy of Prevention

Through Deterrence, as migrants are motivated not by the convenience

of the journey but by a global economy that pushes them to seek work

in the United States and creates a need for cheap labor there despite

Americans’ hypocritical distaste for undocumented laborers. 11 Hostile

Terrain 94 calls for a reevaluation of our current border and economic

policies and a correction to the portrayal of undocumented people as

erasable and their suffering as intangible. It also comments explicitly on

the upcoming general election and against President Donald Trump’s

manipulation of “states of exception” to dehumanize migrants. Hostile

Terrain 94 does not disguise the political nature of the project to uphold

the aloof immaculateness of “art”; its purpose is to activate change.

Guston also sees the aim of his art as “un-numbing” his audience––

awakening viewers from inertia and dissolving the desensitizing cloak

of the status quo. 12 He deconstructs “cultural shibboleths” and positions

himself against society. 13 Guston renounces the “soothing lullaby” of

common perceptions and the finality of political dictations; he makes all

the elements in The Coat II morphological. 14 Guston crucifies everyday

objects: The bottom hem of the coat becomes two planks of wood

nailed together by black buttons; the sleeves appear stiff and fleshy

all at once; and the shoes are semblances of bread. The black dots are

incisions used to puncture the “normal.” His “wobbly” painting holds

the “promise of continuity” for which Hostile Terrain 94 also hopes. 15

Just as De León intends to “sneak back and forth across the border

between ‘accepted discourse and excluded discourse’ ” to generate

new knowledge and new forms of cultural understanding, 16 Guston,

too, seeks to suspend history in a state of constant redefinition. Guston

writes that “history is not a cat that follows you around” 17 —it always lies

ahead, anticipating your arrival.

____________________________________________________

8

Dore Ashton, A Critical Study of Philip Guston (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990),

177. In an interview with Morton Feldman, Guston said, “I began to see all of life really as a vast

concentration camp. And everybody is numbed, you know. Then I thought, ‘Well, that’s the

only reason to be an artist: to escape, to bear witness to this.’ ” See also Clark Coolidge, Philip

Guston: Collected Writings, Lectures, and Conversations (Berkeley: University of California

Press, 2011), 81.

9

Gogol, The Overcoat, 10.

10

Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press: 2005). See

also, Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford

University Press, 1998); Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of

Sovereignty (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press: 2005).

11

Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2004), 22.

____________________________________________________

12

Coolidge, Philip Guston, 81.

13

Ashton, A Critical Study of Philip Guston, 179.

14

Philip Guston, “Studio Notes December 8th, 1978,” quoted in Coolidge, Philip Guston, 314.

15

Coolidge, Philip Guston, 195.

16

De León, The Land of Open Graves, 14.

17

Coolidge, Philip Guston, 171.

14 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 15


EKALAN HOU is a junior double majoring in English and Art History. She is a

Student Guide at the Cantor Arts Center and the Anderson Collection.

OTHER WORKS CONSULTED:

Aviles, Mary. “Data Visualization as an Act of Witnessing.” Nightingale, March 4,

2020. https://medium.com/nightingale/data-visualization-as-an-act-ofwitnessing-33e346f5e437.

De León, Jason, Cameron Gokee, and Ashley Schubert. “ ‘By the Time I Get to

Arizona’: Citizenship, Materiality, and Contested Identities along the US-

Mexico Border.” Anthropological Quarterly 88, no. 2 (2015): 445–79. https://doi.

org/10.1353/anq.2015.0022.

De León, Jason, Cameron Gokee, and Anna Forringer-Beal. “ ‘Disruption,’ Use Wear,

and Migrant Habitus in the Sonoran Desert.” In Migration and Disruptions,

edited by Brenda J. Baker and Takeyuki Tsuda, 145–78. Gainesville: University

Press of Florida, 2015. https://doi.org/10.5744/florida/9780813060804.003.0007.

EMBODIMENT: MANUEL NERI, HOSTILE

TERRAIN 94, AND THE DEPICTION OF

VIOLENCE IN ART

MELISSA SANTOS

The human body has long been used in art to explore the human

condition—life and death, the personal and the political. In paintings

and in sculpture, the depiction of the body beckons us to reflect on

our own fragility and humanity. Manuel Neri’s life-size sculptures of

women in plaster are an example of an artist’s attempt to capture body

language and movement. The textured surface of pieces like Marble Relief

Maquette No. 3 (1983) (fig. 3) and Standing Figure II (1982) (fig. 4) evidence

his handiwork and evoke a profound emotional response; the sculptures

convey the sense of intimacy Neri felt with his subjects, such as his lifelong

muse, Mary Julia Klimenko, who posed for both aforementioned works. 1

Gokee, Cameron, and Jason De León. “Sites of Contention: Archaeological

Classification and Political Discourse in the US-Mexico Borderlands.” Journal

of Contemporary Archaeology 1, no. 1 (2014): 133–63. https://doi.org/10.1558/jca.

v1i1.133.

Gokee, Cameron, Haeden Stewart, and Jason De León. “Scales of Suffering in the

US-Mexico Borderlands.” International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 2020.

https://doi.org/10.1007/s10761-019-00535-6.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. “On Nonscalability: The Living World Is Not Amenable to

Precision-Nested Scales.” Common Knowledge 18, no. 3 (2012), 505–24. https://

doi.org/10.1215/0961754x-1630424.

Toe tags, Hostile Terrain 94 at the Anderson Collection {detail}, 2020

____________________________________________________

1

Sidney Simon, “Standing Figure II,” Anderson Collection at Stanford University website, accessed

July 21 2020, https://anderson.stanford.edu/collection/untitled-standing-figure-by-manuel-neri/.

16 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 17


things that come to mind. However, each tag on the wall represents the

recovered body of an undocumented migrant who died between the

mid-1990s and 2019 while crossing the border.

Each of these migrants entered the “hostile terrain” of the Sonoran

Desert because American policy left them with few alternatives. In

1994, the United States closed highly frequented border crossing

points under a campaign called Prevention Through Deterrence; it

was meant to discourage undocumented migrants from crossing the

border. Rather than deterring migrants, however, the policy merely

heightened the risks for those attempting border crossings—including

more than six million people since 2000—as they searched for routes

through harsh, remote regions that pose greater risk of dehydration

and hyperthermia. Because the resulting migrant deaths are portrayed

as “natural,” they are “easily denied by state actors and erased by the

desert environment.” 2

Figure 3. (left) Manuel Neri, Marble Relief Maquette, No. 3, 1983, bronze with Alborada

patina, oil-based pigments with yellow glaze, cast 2013, patina 2016, ed. 1/4, 27 ½ x 9 ¾ x

4 in., Anderson Collection at Stanford University, Gift of the Manuel Neri Trust, 2017.2.03c.

© The Manuel Neri Trust. Photo: M. Lee Fatheree. Figure 4. (right) Manuel Neri, Standing

Figure II, 1982, pigment on plaster, 69 ¼ x 17 7⁄8 x 19 ½ in., Anderson Collection at Stanford

University, Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, and Mary Patricia Anderson

Pence, 2014.1.059. © The Manuel Neri Trust. Photo: Ian Reeves.

Upon closer examination, the bodily violence attributed to natural

causes is actually a product of structural violence: policies like Prevention

Through Deterrence; ramifications from the 1994 North American Free

Trade Agreement, such as cheap American imports, out-of-work peasant

farmers, and Mexico’s failing economy, all of which spurred migration to

the United States; and interventionist US policies that created instability

and danger in many Central American countries. 3

Although Neri’s work is beautiful, it also suggests vulnerability: one cannot

help but consider the violence in the scratches and scrapes on the

surface, the missing face and limbs, the corpus forever entrapped in a

plaster shell.

Like the chips and gouges in Neri’s plaster sculptures, the details of

Hostile Terrain 94 prompt thoughts of violence and suffering. When one

first encounters the installation—a collection of 3,200 toe tags pinned

across a map of the US-Mexico border—bodies may not be the first

Even after their deaths, the undocumented migrants represented by

the tags continue to suffer from what anthropologist Jason De León

calls “necroviolence,” or violence produced by treating corpses in a way

that is offensive, sacrilegious, or inhumane, as their bodies are often

decomposed, degraded by the unforgiving desert sun, or defiled by

animals. 4 This is especially true for those represented by orange tags,

____________________________________________________

2

Jason De León, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (Oakland:

University of California Press, 2015), 16.

3

Ibid., 6.

4

De León, The Land of Open Graves, 69.

18 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 19


whose bodies were unable to be identified; for each of those bodies,

someone mourns the unresolved loss of a child, parent, sibling, or friend.

As De León writes, families who lose a loved one yet never receive a body

to bury are not only denied the funeral rites associated with mourning

but deprived of the ability to “make sense of the life and death of the

deceased.” 5 The postmortem violence of policies like Prevention Through

Deterrence robs undocumented migrants of their dignity even in death.

Unlike Neri’s sculptures, whose suggestions of violence are limited to

the appearance of their plaster limbs and skin, Hostile Terrain 94 asks

us to consider physical harm well hidden by politics and bureaucracy.

In the absence of the figure, we must consider bodies that, though not

materially present, constituted real people who endured real suffering.

We are charged with remembering and memorializing each person

represented by a tag. Most importantly, we are urged to consider the

human cost of federal policies and reexamine where our country stands

on human rights issues, especially at our border—a responsibility that

extends beyond the museum walls, and long after the installation of

Hostile Terrain 94.

MELISSA SANTOS is a Student Guide at the museums and a Stanford senior

currently residing in Los Angeles; she will receive her bachelor’s in Psychology

and master’s in Sociology in June 2021.

FILL IN THE BLANKS: PEOPLE AND LINES

IN JASON DE LEÓN’S HOSTILE TERRAIN

94 AND AGNES MARTIN’S UNTITLED #21

GEORGIA GARDNER

The movement of people across the United States’ Southern border

has become an unquestionably controversial topic in recent years.

The reasons are many and varied, but the politicization of the border

crisis has allowed stakeholders other than immigrants to describe and

define the issue, as well as prescribe solutions. People have become

“aliens,” “illegals,” numbers, and pawns for political advancement. Their

intentions and morality have been challenged by strangers; their bodies

have been brutalized by heat, thirst, and starvation; and, above all, their

humanity has been erased.

With Hostile Terrain 94, anthropologist and curator Jason De León and

the Undocumented Migration Project have zeroed in on one especially

barren section of land that straddles the US-Mexico border to illuminate

the obscured human toll of one particularly brutal strategy of border

security. This strategy is called Prevention Through Deterrence, or PTD.

PTD is a Band-Aid on a bullet wound, claiming to discourage and hinder

unofficial movement across the border but instead merely making

the passage more perilous. The infamously arid, empty, inhospitable,

uninhabitable Sonoran Desert spans the border regions of Mexico and

Arizona, serving as an environmental barrier that impedes passage

between the two countries. Relying on the false but persistent notion

of “empty land” as unclaimed, unregulated space—a notion used by

colonizers to legitimize expansionist desires and displace indigenous

citizens—officers and legislators attempt to ignore and even hide the

large and real human toll PTD has taken.

5

Ibid., 71.

In its beginning stages, Hostile Terrain 94 seemed to mirror this image

of an empty desert. A preliminary draft of the piece included a thick,

20 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 21


lack line representing the border, but disregarded the landscape of the

Sonoran Desert (fig. 5), with its scorched, dusty soil; its blazing, cloudless

skies; and its smattering of unfriendly cacti and grasses. Unrepresented,

too, were the personalities, passions, and pains of the people who

perished there, or of those who survived the trek across the expanse. De

León wrote, “Those who live and die in the desert have names, faces, and

families,” acknowledging that these essential human features are not

visible in the assemblage of lines that form the foundation of the project. 1

The grid, employed in both Hostile Terrain 94 (to aid installation of tags)

and the Anderson Collection’s Untitled #21 (fig. 6) by American painter

Agnes Martin, is a sterile, technical tool used to calculate and exact.

Associated with mathematics, precise measurements, and durable

netting and fencing, the grid does not naturally engender feelings of

freedom, beauty, or humanity. However, in the 1960s, Martin chose the

Figure 6. Agnes Martin, Untitled #21, 1980, acrylic, gesso & graphite on canvas, 72 x 72

in., Gift of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, and Mary Patricia Anderson Pence,

2014.1.110. © Estate of Agnes Martin / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Figure 5. Scale drawing of installation. The small triangles on this grid would be replaced by

with hanging manila or orange toe tags. Courtesy of the Undocumented Migration Project.

grid as the center of her artistic vocabulary. Without brushstrokes or

signatures, her work seems, at first, predictably and thoroughly void of

humanity. The bulk of Martin’s oeuvre features large, square canvases

filled by grids and stripes in sepia tones and the paler versions of the

primary colors: baby blues, soft pinks, and glowing yellows. While the

works are undeniably abstract, some viewers see everyday patterns, “like

the lines of a musical staff, or an accounting ledger, or a school notebook.” 2

____________________________________________________

1

Jason De León, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (Oakland:

University of California Press, 2015), 5.

____________________________________________________

2

Holland Cotter, “The Joy of Reading Between Agnes Martin’s Lines,” New York Times, October

6, 2016.

22 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 23


Untitled #21, currently featured in the Anderson Collection, is a tranquil

and luminous piece Martin painted in 1980 on one of her signature

72-by-72-inch canvases. The artist made the painting in the New

Mexican desert, where she settled permanently in pursuit of quiet,

solitude, and communion with nature. She used graphite to cast gray,

horizontal lines across the canvas, which she filled with washed-out

stains of pink, yellow, and blue separated by empty lanes of canvas. 3 The

infinitely subtle, disappearing impressions of color repeat predictably

and symmetrically down the length of the canvas. Only when one looks

at the painting more closely are the imperfections and personality of

the piece perceptible: The previously unswerving gray lines wiggle

slightly, some sections darker and thicker than others. The slender

bands of color transform from razor-edged rulers to waving ribbons,

the color within beginning to flicker. Untitled #21 becomes a beautifully

flawed human creation rather than a uniform pattern that could be

replicated by a machine.

Just as Untitled #21 requires a viewer’s attention and participation to

uncover its humanity, Hostile Terrain 94 involves the public directly to

saturate the blank grid of a map with names, numbers, and personal

information. Members of each community where Hostile Terrain 94

lands fill the sterile map with pushpins and toe tags. The heavy layer of

tags gives form to the individuals and stories that populate the so-called

vacant land. All 3,200 people whose lives were lost under implementation

of PTD—whose mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children miss

them every day, and whose bodies were left to be discovered or

disappear in the baking heat—are represented on the wall. Their names,

ages, genders, and causes of death have been researched, written,

and attached to tags pinned on the map exactly where they died. The

participatory element, whereby community members transfer the

facts of the thousands of victims’ lives and deaths onto tags is an act of

____________________________________________________

3

Peter Schjeldahl,“Agnes Martin, a Matter-of-Fact Mystic,” New Yorker, October 17, 2016.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/17/agnes-martin-a-matter-of-fact-mystic.

remembrance, honor, and mourning. Participants carefully and lovingly

document the undocumented, filling the empty desert with people.

The heart of Hostile Terrain 94 lies in the tragic, anthropological

component layered atop the grid, but the piece would not be the same

without its technical foundation. Similarly, the heart of Untitled #21 is

uncovered in the pause, through reflection, focus, and calm, even as

its utilitarian formal elements fortify its value. It is the intersection of

perfection and chaos, the grid and the wild, the mathematical and the

real, that makes Martin’s work so special, and what enables De León’s

message to reverberate so loudly and poignantly.

GEORGIA GARDNER is a junior studying Art History and International Relations

and is a Student Guide at the Cantor Arts Center and Anderson Collection

during her final two years at Stanford.

OTHER WORKS CONSULTED:

Aviles, Mary. “Data Visualization as an Act of Witnessing.” Nightingale. March

04, 2020. https://medium.com/nightingale/data-visualization-as-an-act-ofwitnessing-33e346f5e437.

Cotter, Holland. “The Joy of Reading Between Agnes Martin’s Lines.” New York

Times. October 6, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/arts/design/thejoy-of-reading-between-agnes-martins-lines.html.

De León, Jason. The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail

(Oakland: University of California Press, 2015), 5.

Schjeldahl, Peter. “Agnes Martin, a Matter-of-Fact Mystic.” New Yorker. October 17,

2016. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/17/agnes-martin-a-matterof-fact-mystic.

Tate. 2012. “Who Is Agnes Martin” Tate. https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tatemodern/exhibition/agnes-martin/who-is-agnes-martin.

24 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY 25


Hostile Terrain 94 {installation view}, Courtesy of the Undocumented Migration Project.


The Anderson Collection at Stanford University is grateful for a dedicated

and passionate organizing team that helped bring this project to fruition.

The museum thanks Koji Lau-Ozawa, Valentina Ramia, Gina Hernandez,

and Jon Ayon Alonso for their determination, resolve, and perseverance to

see this project through a global pandemic, remote learning, area wildfires,

and an election year like no other. Thank you to Mark Shunney for his

attention to detail and concentration while installing the grid, pins, and

tags of Hostile Terrain 94.

The Undocumented Migration Project Exhibition at Stanford, a class listed

in Chicano/Latino Politics/CSRE, is being taught by Gina Hernandez and

Koji Lau-Ozawa in fall quarter 2020 on occasion of the Hostile Terrain 94

installation at the Anderson Collection. The museum thanks the students

in this class for their participation in the installation and excitement about

studying this project.

Thank you to our partners at Stanford: The Bill Lane Center for the American

West, the Department of Anthropology, The Office of the Vice Provost for

Undergraduate Education, the School of the Humanities and Sciences, the

Bechtel International Center, and the Center for Comparative Studies in

Race and Ethnicity.

The Anderson Collection at Stanford University is grateful for the advocates,

activists, and humanitarians whose work respects and fights for the rights

of migrants on the US-Mexico border.

The museum is grateful for support from the Drs. Ben and A. Jess Shenson

Fund and the Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson Charitable Foundation

that made this publication possible.

This brochure is published on the occasion of Hostile Terrain 94 at the Anderson Collection

at Stanford University fall 2020-spring 2021.

design: Pink Top

project management: Aimee Shapiro

copy editing: Anne C. Ray

All photos of Hostile Terrain 94 at the Anderson Collection by

Impart Photography unless otherwise noted.

© 2020 The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University

28 HOSTILE TERRAIN 94 | ANDERSON COLLECTION AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY

More magazines by this user