Hostile Terrain 94 exhibit honors thousands of migrants through art and awareness

FLINT, Michigan — The Flint Farmers’ Market is oftentimes the setting for local meetups between friends, family, colleagues and even, out-of-towners. With the latest art installation on public display, it will also be a sort of pop-up art museum and a conversation starter. Thanks to Mott Community College (MCC) and University of Michigan-Flint (U-M Flint) students, an interactive public art project graces the market from now until Nov. 27.

The art, titled Hostile Terrain 94 is designed to raise awareness about immigrants who have lost their lives crossing the Sonoran Desert of Arizona from the mid-1990s to 2019.

The display invites passersbys to fill out and pin toe tags on a wall-sized map of the US-Mexico border. Each tag is representative of an individual who died trying to cross the desert, and geolocated on the map, indicating the location where their remains were found, and illustrating this human tragedy at the border.

Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94) is sponsored and organized by the Undocumented Migration Project, a non-profit directed by Jason De León, an anthropologist. In total, the participatory art project features 3,200 handwritten toe tags and is on simultaneous display across a number of national and global locations throughout 2022.

1 of 3,200 handwritten toe tags of immigrants that are featured in the Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94) exhibition. Mott Community College Faculty Director for Experiential Learning, Debra Gibes, says U-M Flint assistant professor of anthropology Daniel Birchok spearheaded this project locally. 

“He reached out to me, and asked if we’d like to be a part of what they were doing,” Gibes says. “I was very excited to bring this opportunity to our faculty at Mott. We had a group, our MCC Feminist League group who took on filling out 200 toe tags.”

A group of students installs the Hostile Terrain 94 display.At Mott, the project began about five weeks ago with a distribution of the tags. Gibes says this labor-intensive project provided a great example of real-world experience and global thinking, highlighting Mott’s dedication to experiential learning outside of the classroom.

For MCC students of Dr. Jjenna Andrews, the project provided a real-life look into what it takes to prepare and install an art exhibit. Gibes says the project took about three to four days to install between volunteers with U-M Flint and MCC.

“It was a great experience for our to-be artists who are looking at art as a profession, to understand what it means to be setting up an exhibit and what that entails,” she says. 

As for public art and global remembrance, the goal is to get people thinking and to put a name and face on those who passed.

“It’s really to raise awareness that these were people with hopes and dreams,” says Gibes. “Whether you politically agree with what they did or how the United States reacts, it’s the fact that men, women, and children are dying.”

Hostile Terrain 94 is on display now until Nov. 27 during Flint Farmers’ Market business hours; Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.