“No matter what you think about illegal migration nobody should be dying and they are…by the hundreds.”
–Richard Barnes Co-Curator of State of Exception/Estado de Excepción
By all reports, the intended border wall between Mexico and the U.S. will cost the United States billions of dollars (at the expense of many important social programs). And while it’s easy to get passionate about either side of the issue depending on your political stance (and/or feelings of nationalism), one critical aspect of the debate can get lost in the shuffle: that there are people involved. We need to remember that a mass of desperate men, women, and children, are migrating across the border through extremely dangerous conditions every day. And in attempting to cross into this country, hundreds are dying.
This human cost of migration is the crux of the exhibit “State of Exception/Estado de Excepción” currently on display at Parsons School of Design in New York. The exhibit seeks to reveal the realities of border crossing by reminding us that every statistic quoted in debates and on news shows represents real people, carrying a few meager possessions across the desert.
First exhibited at the University of Michigan, State of Exception was the brain child of artist Amanda Krugliak and photographer Richard Barnes — based on the work of anthropologist Jason De León. De León’s Undocumented Migration Project studies illegal immigration across the US/Mexican border and, in doing so, collects artifacts left behind. Over time he has amassed a large collection of materials lost or abandoned in the desert.
It’s a collection that Krugliak and Barnes felt needed to be witnessed by the public, so in 2012, they created the first iteration of State of Exception. The exhibit centers around a wall made up of 700 backpacks that were found just over the American border. It’s easy to imagine each backpack being carried by a person — hopeful and scared — as they travel towards a new home.
These days, it’s an exhibit that’s extremely topical. One that has a “terrible relevancy” as curator, Richard Barnes puts it.
“The wall of backpacks has come to represent a direct response to the proposed wall on the border,” Barnes says. “It’s an answer to Trump’s wall.”