In parts of the Sonoran desert, the terrain is uneven, rocky. It’s a jagged, mountainous expanse where the 110-degree temperatures can kill you by day, and armed bandits can kill you by night.

LSA Professor of Anthropology Jason De León has spent long hours in the Sonoran environs, cataloging and collecting the items migrants leave behind as they attempt to cross into the United States. Water jugs. Shoes. Small kids’ toys. It looks like trash, but these objects, collected through his Undocumented Migrant Project (UMP), become data to help construct a record of people who are unknown, whose journeys rarely come to light.

Many of these objects are now on display through LSA’s Institute for the Humanities exhibit titled State of Exception. This exhibit considers the complexity and ambiguity of the found objects and what they may or may not reveal in terms of transition, human experience, culture, violence, and accountability.

This is the first major curation of De León’s work since UMP began in 2009, and is a combination of objects, installation, and video shot by photographer Richard Barnes along the U.S./Mexico border.

State of Exception showcases a fraction of the thousands of items now in De León’s collection. A team of undergraduate students helps him organize and document the items in a West Hall lab. They hope to obtain a larger understanding of the migration landscape, which continues to change due to increased patrolling by border patrol agents, as well as growing numbers of bandits and drug cartels that prowl the desert.

“The narrative of this kind of migration is usually, ‘here is a sad tale,’” De León says. “But if you look at the objects, they can tell you how much more is going on.”

Curated by Amanda Krugliak (U-M ’85), State of Exception coincided with LSA’s winter 2013 theme semester, Understanding Race, which explores the idea of race as a social construct and encourages conversations beyond the black/white dichotomy.