Hostile Terrain

The toe tag map in the installation at the Johns Hopkins University Eisenhower Library. November 2021. Image by Will Kirk.

From October 2021 through February 20, 2022, the Archaeological Museum will co-host the participatory exhibition “Hostile Terrain 94” in partnership with several other entities, departments and programs at Johns Hopkins University.

The exhibition is installed in the main foyer (Q-level) of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library beginning in November 2021 where it will be open to the public, Monday through Friday, 8am to 8pm.

This exhibition was developed by the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a non-profit research-art-education-media collective, directed by anthropologist and MacArthur winner Jason De León. It offers a visual, forensic and intimate way to think about the human cost of migration and immigration policy along the US-Mexico border. The nature of the exhibition makes possible a visualization of the underrecognized lethal effects of a U.S. immigration strategy unfolding since 1994 known as “Prevention Through Deterrence,” and provides a literal forensics of immigration policy.

The installation is composed of approximately 3,200 handwritten toe tags that represent migrants who have died trying to cross the Sonoran Desert of Arizona between the mid-1990s and 2019. These tags were written out with the help of over 250 participants, including 17 different university courses at JHU and were geolocated on a wall map of the desert showing the exact locations where remains were found. The wall map is displayed alongside drone footage of the terrain along the US-Mexico border.

This installation is simultaneously taking place at 150 other institutions, both nationally and globally in 2020-21.

Time lapse footage of the installation. Photography and Videography by Homewood Photography.
Organization and Support

The exhibition is co-organized at JHU by Sanchita Balachandran, associate director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, and Alessandro Angelini, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology.

This work is made possible through the generous support and partnership of many entities at JHU including The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute; The Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office; the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute; the Program in Museums and Society;  the Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries and the Sheridan Society Fund; the Program in Racism, Immigration and Citizenship; the Department of Anthropology; Latin America in a Globalizing World; the Program in International Studies; Common Question; and the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum.

Press, Events and Social Media

The exhibition was featured in a JHU Hub article entitled “Art Installation Memorializes The Thousands of Lives Lost at the U.S.-Mexico Border” as well as the Johns Hopkins Magazine. The student run JHU-Newsletter also published the article “Hostile Terrain 94 Delivers A Harsh Critique of America’s Immigration Policies.”

Follow information about the exhibition on the Archaeological Museum’s Facebook page and by looking for the hashtag #HT94JHU on all social media platforms.

Student Projects

The exhibition was the focus of sophomore Natalia Stefanska’s project “Topography of Death” which was completed for Casey Lurtz‘s fall 2021 course “Modern Latin America.”


Reach us at [email protected]

Another view of the exhibit as installed in the Johns Hopkins University Eisenhower Library. November 2021. Image by Will Kirk.