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Following the footsteps

For Jason De Leon, the story of undocumented migrant workers’ treacherous trek northward from Mexico through Arizona is a complex, layered contemporary narrative best told by what isn’t said, and what is left behind.

For the past four years, De Leon (photo left) – an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan – has directed a group of U-M students in an exhaustive collection and archeological documentation of clothes, personal belongings and odd bits of refuse left in the wake of undocumented migrants traveling along the U.S.-Mexico border. While De Leon’s Undocumented Migration Project (UMP) has received widespread attention in the national news media and especially in the southwest U.S., the Institute of Humanities at U-M is the first venue to present the expansive collection of found objects of De Leon’s meticulous chronicle, which some critics claim offers an evocative testament to the “human cost of immigration.”


“State of Exception”  features the videography of acclaimed photographer Richard Barnes, whose work has been exhibited at many prestigious museums in the U.S. Barnes’ video work, which complements De Leon’s humanistic undertaking, depicts the conditions and challenges of those making the journey while evoking the ambiguity of the found objects – water bottles, back packs, personal photos and wallets, forsaken shoes – that litter the desert path leading to the Arizona border.

The exhibit is part of the Understanding Race Project, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) theme semester which explores the many notions of race throughout the winter semester. From January through April, an extensive range of public exhibits, performances, lectures, symposia and more than 130 courses in several disciplines will explore the concept of race and its impacts.  The historical, cultural, psychological and legal interpretations of race will be examined from both national and global perspectives. Highlights of the project include the “Race: Are We So Different?” exhibit developed by the American Anthropological Association and the Science Museum of Minnesota and “IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas,” a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit.

As evidence of the historical significance of UMP, the collected items – which are kept in an intricate inventory of boxes at De Leon’s U-M office – will be transferred during summer 2014 to the Smithsonian Institute Archives.

“Together, the collected found objects and Richard Barnes’ photography reveals the nuances, complexities and violence of the culture of immigration along the southeastern U.S. border,” said Amanda Krugliak, who, as exhibition curator, selected a range of items to evoke the distinct experiences of undocumented migrants. “We hope the exhibit will inspire a range of conversations, from the power of ‘found objects’ to evoke stories and profound meanings, to a new way of thinking about immigration policy.”

Indeed, “State of Exception” could prove to be especially timely.  In the next few months, President Barack Obama is expected to push for a major overhaul of the immigration system. The preliminary plan calls for a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrates currently in the U.S. The controversial debate is expected to look at issues such as amnesty, payment of back taxes and a verification system to track legal status.

Photo by Michael Wells.

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 WHAT:  “State of Exception,” the first major curation of the work of U-M Anthropology Professor Jason De Leon’s Undocumented Migration Project
Featuring photography/videography of Richard Barnes
Curated by Amanda Krugliak
WHEN:                    Jan. 24 – March 12
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday
 WHERE: Institute of Humanities Gallery, 202 S. Thayer, Ann Arbor (University of Michigan)



Jason De León is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. Since 2009 he has directed the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a long-term anthropological study of clandestine border crossings between Northern Mexico and Southern Arizona.

The UMP uses a combination of ethnographic,  archaeological, and forensic 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, and the evolving material culture associated with crossing.

Richard Barnes divides his time between commissioned work and personal projects. He has had numerous exhibitions in this country and abroad including solo shows at the Carnegie Museum of Art, The Carpenter Center at Harvard University, and the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, among others. He was the recipient of the Rome Prize in 2005/06 and his photographs from Rome formed the basis for his book and installation Animal Logic. His body of work on the “Unabomber cabin” was featured in the 2006 Whitney Biennial and was shown recently in the exhibition “Crime Unseen” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.

He received the Eisenstadt Award in Photography for the “Unabomber Cabin” and in 2009 he was the recipient of the Sidman Fellowship for the Arts from the University of Michigan Institute for the Humanities. In 2011 he was awarded the Julius Shulman Award in Photography, and is a 2012 recipient of a Smithsonian fellowship.  His photographs are in the collections of the MOMA, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco MOMA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts, among others. He works on assignment for such publications as the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic and The New Yorker.

Amanda Krugliak is an artist and curator. She received her degree from the University of Michigan School of Art in 1985 and lived and worked as part of the artistic community in San Francisco before returning to Ann Arbor in 2002.  As curator for the Institute for the Humanities, her curatorial projects include “Waiting for the Extraordinary/Mark Dion,”  “Documenting Democracy in America/ in collaboration with CreativeTime,” “Plant, commission on the Packard Plant,” The Open-Ended Group,    “PastPerfect/Future Tense,” Richard Barnes,” Lecture on the Weather/in collaboration with the John Cage Trust,” and New Work/Scott Hocking.”

Krugliak is a performance artist, and has presented her original monologues throughout the United States.  She performed and served on a panel with Holly Hughes representing the University of Michigan at the International Performance Conference, at NYU  in 2007, and was curated as a performer at the Detroit Institute of Arts  in 2009.  In 2012, she was the featured performer for the U-M Comparative Languages conference on Revolution.


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