No Más Muertes installs symbolic art
Members of the immigration issues awareness group No Más Muertes, as well as NAU faculty and members of the Flagstaff community, gathered on the field behind the W.A. Franke College of Business on the evening of May 1 to lay down 6,000 wooden crosses in memory of those who have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border as part of an interactive exhibit.
Spanish professor and No Más Muertes faculty adviser Robert Neustadt said the installation is meant to spread awareness and not a political message.
“With this art installation, we are not defending or promulgating any one, specific, political perspective,” Neustadt said. “[We are] calling attention to the fact that there’s a humanitarian disaster going on here, that more than 6,000 people have died attempting to cross the border since 1994 … We don’t tend to hear very much about the gravity of the enormous amount of death and suffering that’s happening on the border.”
The design of the memorial reflects the cooperation between No Más Muertes and the university. Katie Larson, a junior Spanish major, said the group’s request to stage the event, which was made about four weeks ago, was originally turned down. The group met with President John Haeger and Provost Liz Grobsmith on April 30.
“The biggest issue was where we were going to put [the crosses] because [they] might burn if someone decided to vandalize [them],” Larson said.
Art professor Shawn Skabelund, who worked with Neustadt to create the installation, said the crosses’ layout changed completely.
“[The] original idea was to have a big field of staked crosses in that space, to bring them up the sidewalks on either side and have another field [of crosses] on the North campus so you had this visual, symbolic timepiece where you actually walked from one field to the other field to have this deeper, richer meaning to it,” Skabelund said. ”That’s what art is all about — the symbolism. If you can have as many symbols in the piece as possible, that’s when it becomes even richer.”
Skabelund also said the current installation, which encourages viewers to walk through the field and to leave their responses on chalkboards, still expressed the chaos of the immigrant experience.
“The art concept was over 6,000 deaths and, for me, I wasn’t totally happy with the piece until it got some order to it [around the perimeter] and [was] framed. Then I was able to look at it with fresh eyes and say ‘Wow this is chaos, but that’s what’s going on down there.’”
Larson said she joined No Más Muertes because many people do not know the impact of immigration.
“I joined to bring more attention to these issues. With friends and family members dying on the borders, it’s kind of a personal issue [for me],” Larson said. “And Flagstaff is only five hours away ─ it’s incredible how many people have no idea what is happening every day just a couple of hours [from here].”
Larson also explained that No Más Muertes wants to bring awareness to the deaths on the border.
“[No Más Muertes is] just people thinking about how [the ways in which] people die on the border is so slow, so painful,” Larson said. “Whether or not they’re coming illegally is not what we’re about; we just want to help them and not have people die out there.”
Skabelund said the form of the installation may have varied, but it still visually communicates a powerful message.
“I think no matter what form it’s in, it’s going to reach out to the community … To actually walk among the crosses and see they symbolize individual lives and that they’re all different, just like the migrants are all different. There are not a lot of people here who actually know that there have been over 6,000 deaths since 1994.”
Jane Marks, director of the Martin Springer Institute, said No Más Muerte’s efforts at bringing awareness to the issue of immigration was in sync with the group’s mission of teaching the lessons of the Holocaust.
“We feel this is a way of bringing the invisible visible,” Marks said. “[We want to encourage people] to think about the deaths that are happening on the border and to start thinking about what the root of the problem is and how we can go about solving it and stopping these unnecessary deaths.”
One of the signs between the comment chalkboards gave a synopsis of the installation, and the other featured a quote from Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel. “The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference. The opposite of life isn’t death, it’s indifference,” it read.
Neustadt said the crosses are meant to represent the humanity of the immigrants who die crossing the border.
“It’s hard to conceive of what the number 6,000 deaths actually means,” Neustadt said. “Part of this is to show visually what 6,000 bodies would look like in this case … but each one of these crosses represent a body.”
The crosses will be on South campus until tonight.