The Arizona desert stretches for thousands of miles. Among the landscape are thousands of untold stories belonging to a people whose voices often aren’t heard. Men, women and children travel through Arizonian environments in search of a better life.
This journey individuals and families have embarked on has occurred for decades without much change. The topic has gained various levels of recognition in the public over the years, with activists who want to bring the migrant struggle back to the forefront of public perception. For the last twelve years found objects artist Deborah McCullough has used her art to raise awareness on this lesser-known issue many face today.
On Friday, Nov. 3, McCullough shared her artistic findings with the students of West Chester University in her Migration Art Exhibit. In this exhibit one will find displays of lost objects including shoes, clothing, pictures and various other items that anyone may find imperative to their survival or carry close during their journey.
These dropped possessions are found along the Migrant Trails outside of Tucson, Arizona. The exhibit’s articles may initially appear to be trash, but McCullough makes it clear they are key to understanding the experiences of another human being.
During her time as a member of the humanitarian group Tucson Samaritans, McCollough found many personal artifacts which she would later incorporate in her work. During her first two years of service with Latinx migrants in Arizona, she privately collected the items as a way to vent her sorrows about their suffering. Regarding this, she stated, “I was creating things to heal my own soul.”
Once she was able to share her findings, McCullough’s exhibit traveled all over the country to share her personal experiences with their struggle.
The exhibit contains pieces reminiscent of a human past. Collections of worn shoes, toiletries, photos and children’s toys are put on display to connect the viewer to the lives of the Latinx migrants traveling the path towards the United States.
In the Sykes display there are shrines to some of the lives lost, or those that will never be discovered. The exhibit, located in the main area of the Old Library, illustrates the cultural significance of the items found.
McCullough said that gathering the findings for her art takes a huge emotional toll. She felt that experiencing the suffering of another person at such an empathetic level changes one’s view of the world and draws them closer to that person’s reality and struggle.
In an interview with McCullough she said: “…I walked the trails, I was involved in searching for people and I was recognizing that the items that were being referred to as trash really stuck with me. A lot of what I found was personal items that spoke about the journey that people were going through.”
McCullough further said, “It made me think about the Oregon Trail and the history of migration across the United States. So that’s what made me start thinking it would be a way of showing people the very dear things—like photos, bibles and worn shoes—that speak to how difficult the journey is.”
McCullough says she started her journey to help others in a time of need. Through her artwork she wants to give viewers the ability to see through the eyes of the migrating people of the Arizona desert while also inciting awareness around the nation.
Her exhibits are on display until Friday, Nov. 17. For more information contact Professor Michael Di Giovine at email@example.com, or Professor Daniela Johannes at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the artist’s website at http://www.deborahmccullough.com/.
Tara Shachter is a fourth-year student majoring in graphic design with a minor in information technology. She can be reached at TS830070@wcupa.edu. and on Twitter @TaraTheDesigner.
Domenico Martorana is a fourth-year student majoring in English with a concentration in writing and a minor in education. He can be reached at DM831540@wcupa.edu.