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Image courtesy of Sin Huellas Artist Collective.

Hostile Terrain 94 / Detention Nation


April 17—May 16, 2021


The Department of Comparative Cultural Studies (CCS) at the University of Houston, Public Art of the University of Houston System, and the Sin Huellas Artist Collective have collaborated to present a double exhibit of the art installations Hostile Terrain 94 and Detention Nation.

The artist-activist installations will be exhibited in the lobby of the Blaffer Art Museum from April 17 to May 16, 2021.  The installations will be accompanied by two online panel discussion webinars, to be held on Thursday, April 22, and Saturday, April 24.

Hostile Terrain 94 is a participatory art project sponsored and organized by the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a non-profit research-art-education-media collective directed by anthropologist Jason DeLeón.  The exhibition is composed of over 3,200 handwritten toe tags representing migrants who have died trying to cross the Sonoran Desert of Arizona between the mid-1990s and 2019.  These tags are geolocated on a wall map of the desert, showing the exact locations where remains were found. This installation occurs at more than 125 institutions nationally and globally, in 2021 throughout 2022.  The Department of Comparative Cultural Studies (CCS) at the University of Houston is the regional host and principal sponsor for the Hostile Terrain 94 exhibition in the Houston area.  Hostile Terrain 94 is co-presented by Public Art of the University of Houston System. The physical launch of Hostile Terrain 94 in Houston will be on view in the Blaffer Art Museum lobby.

Detention Nation is a multi-media installation that consists of video, audio, detainee letters, cyanotype body prints, and plaster body casts huddled in Mylar emergency blankets.  Keeping the intent of the original Detention Nation physical installation, the Sin Huellas Artist Collective has re-designed the installation as an online site that includes updated information about youth incarceration and family separations and honors the multi-year collaborative work of the collective.  The Detention Nation virtual art space launches on April 17 at detentionnation.com with virtual performances by Julia Barbosa Landois, Veronica Gaona, Jessica Gonzalez, Karen Martinez, and Erick Zambrano.

The Sin Huellas Artist Collective, Spanish for ‘without a trace,’ is a collective composed of Mexican, Latinx, and American artists and activists formed to explore issues of detention, deportation, and borders in the US.  The Sin Huellas Artist Collective has toured Detention Nation starting with the Station Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston, TX (2015); Museo De Las Americas, Denver, CO (2016); Mulvane Art Museum, Topeka 2018; and Landmark Gallery, Lubbock, TX (2018).  The core Sin Huellas Artist Collective consists of Professor Delilah Montoya and Artist Brenda Cruz-Wolf, Artist-Organizer Orlando Lara, Organizer Deyadira Arellano in collaboration with designers Matt O’Hare and Violette Bule and transcription support from Jonathan Gonzalez.


Professor Nicholas De Genova, a scholar of migration, borders, race, and citizenship, and Chair of the Department Comparative Cultural Studies, invited the Sin Huellas Artist Collective to present Detention Nation alongside the Hostile Terrain 94 installation on campus at the Univeresity of Houston. Together, Comparative Cultural Studies, Public Art, and the Sin Huellas Artist Collective have organized a physical and virtual installation to expand the dialogue concerning the violence of immigration enforcement, border policing, and detention.