a desert field with a small brush fire burning in Quitovac, Mexico

The Place Where Clouds Are Formed

28 Jul 2019 CONTAINERS
Four women, two sitting on white plastic chairs on a roadside in Quitovac, Mexico

Featuring: Gareth Smit, Ofelia Zepeda, MartĂ­n ZĂ­cari

Presented by
Magnum Foundation with Additional Support by United Photo Industries

Curated by
Kristen Lubben





Started in 2018 through a Magnum Foundation grant, this project combines poetry and photography to investigate the intersection of religion and migration in the borderlands of Arizona and Sonora, the ancestral land of the Tohono O’odham.

This section of the U.S.-Mexico border separates not only the Tohono O’odham people, but their sacred sites and ancestral land. Since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and later the Gadsden Purchase, the O’odham were repeatedly divided and clustered by federal laws.

The threat of the wall being built on the border is a threat to their sovereignty. Today, the desert is a scene of violence and brutality. Overwhelmed by U.S. immigration policies, migrants cross the desert risking their lives. Adding to the death and destruction on ancestral land is a generalized state of violence along the border. Entire towns, like Cu:wi I-gersk, have been abandoned as the O’odham fled for their safety.

Photography of the border often reflects the dualism it portrays: we see either the Mexican side or the U.S. side, since the photographer is embedded with a migrant caravan, or the border patrol. This collaboration seeks to suspend the dualism and, through poetry and photography, enter a space of reflection about what remains when the border is not there.


Ofelia Zepeda is an O’odham poet and Regents’ professor of O’odham language and linguistics at the University of Arizona. Ofelia Zepeda es una poeta O´dham y profesora en la Universidad de Arizona donde enseña lingüística y lengua O´odham.

Gareth Smit is a documentary photographer working in issues related to migration, race, identity, and violence. Gareth Smit es un fotĂłgrafo documental. Su trabajo trata temas de migraciĂłn, raza, identidad y violencia.

Martín Zícari is an historian working on the problem of enforced disappearances in Mexico. He is completing a Ph.D at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, under a European Research Council grant. Martín Zícari es un historiador trabajando sobre la problemática de la desaparición forzada en México. Realiza un doctorado en la KU Leuven con una beca del ERC.


Magnum Foundation expands creativity and diversity in documentary photography, activating new audiences and ideas through the innovative use of images. Through grantmaking, mentoring, and creative collaborations, we partner with socially engaged imagemakers experimenting with new models for storytelling.

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