Jason De León exhibit detail


Hostile Terrain 94 Pop-Up Exhibition

Hostile Terrain 94 is a participatory political art community event created by UCLA Anthropologist Jason De León and his Undocumented Migrant Project to be realized by hundreds of people throughout Penn and Philadelphia.

Volunteer: For this exhibition at Penn Museum, toe tags will be filled out that represent each of the nearly 3200 bodies that have been recovered along the Southern Arizona border since 2000. Volunteers will handwrite on each toe tag the name, age, sex, date, cause of death, and other details for each person. These toe tags will then be placed on a wall map of the Arizona/Mexico border in the exact location where corresponding human remains were found.

Volunteers will meet at the Penn Museum at scheduled times throughout the day on September 23 and 24. 



Exhibition Interpretative Goals: This installation is intended to:

  1. Raise awareness about the realities of the US/Mexico border, including the suffering and death occuring daily since the mid-1990s as a direct result of the Border Patrol policy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence.”  
  2. Globally memorialize the thousands who have died as a result of this policy, especially those people still unidentified whose remains have yet to be reunited family members.
  3. Construct an affordable, accessible, and democratized exhibition that draws in community participation across a range of national and international locations. The installation logistics at each location require the involvement of many people who will directly contribute to its construction and display. The most powerful participatory element of this project involves the time and effort required of volunteers to meticulously fill out the ~3200 individual toe tags that will annotate the name, age, sex, cause of death, condition of body, and location of recovery for each person whose remains have been recovered in the Sonoran Desert.

Background: In 1994 the U.S. Border Patrol officially launched the immigration enforcement strategy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence.” This policy was designed to discourage undocumented migrants from trying to cross the border illegally near urban ports of entry. By closing off these traditional crossing points, the only other possible areas to cross would be in more remote "hostile terrain," such as the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona.

Far from being a deterrent, this US/Mexico border policy has unleashed a humanitarian crisis. More than 6 million people alone have tried to cross the Sonoran Desert. Based on remains collected in the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona, approximately 3200 have died while trying to cross. In perishing from dehydration and hyperthermia, these deaths have been unimaginably slow and cruel.

Prevention Through Deterrence remains the primary U.S./Mexico border enforcement strategy. 

Hostile Terrain 94 is hosted by Penn Museum. It is one in a series of three events on September 25, 2019, presented as part of the 2019–2020 Forum on Kinship, Wolf Humanities Center.

The series is cosponsored by Penn’s Department of Anthropology, Center for Experimental Ethnography, Cinema and Media Studies Program, Latin American and Latino Studies Program, Penn Provost, Price Lab for Digital Humanities, and SACHS Program for Arts Innovation.