This thought-provoking exhibition is the collaborative effort of artists, quiltmakers, and activists to express compassion for migrants from Mexico and Central America who have died in Southern Arizona deserts on their way to create better lives for themselves and their families. Materials in the quilts were collected at sites used for rest and shelter along established trails in the Sonoran Desert.
Between 2004 and 2005, a record number of 282 migrants perished in the Tucson Border Patrol Sector, the region between New Mexico and Yuma. The increase in deaths moved Jody Ipsen to take action to alleviate the tragic loss of life. As she hiked remote migrant trails with fellow humanitarians, Jody realized that the textile-based discards could be used to make quilts to communicate the reality of migrants’ deaths. She reached out to quiltmakers to create quilts from the blue jeans, bandanas, work shirts and embroidered cloths she gathered in the desert. Quilts represent deaths from each year since 2000, when the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office began documenting the names of deceased migrants.
Each Migrant Quilt lists the deaths for a specific federal fiscal year, coinciding with the U.S. government’s record-keeping. The name of each individual who died that year is inscribed on the quilt, with the word “unknown” or “desconocido” used to designate an unidentified person’s remains. Quiltmakers are free to design their quilts however they desire. Many include traditional Mexican iconography, motifs, and embroidery. Displayed together for the first time, The Migrant Quilt Project exhibition is a beautiful tribute to those memorialized in its works.