According to Border Patrol statistics, more than 7,209 human beings have died while crossing the southwestern border of the United States over the past 20 years. The International Organization for Migration has recorded the deaths of nearly 25,000 humans attempting to migrate across the globe’s imposed borders since 2014. Both numbers are vastly underestimated; both are unfathomable.

Something to Hold Onto considers ancestral migratory routes and the lands of Indigenous peoples affected by imposed borders, acknowledging all asylum seekers, tribal lands, longstanding relationships to land and migration as cultural practice. This intersectional project highlights the impact of borders on Indigenous bodies and how, across the continent, our migration routes have been traumatically interrupted through incarceration and death.

Something to Hold Onto will incorporate more than 7,209 handmade beads as a way to collectively re-humanize this large, abstract, and dehumanizing data. We invite your communities to make and contribute clay beads, honoring lives lost along the now unsafe migration paths of Indigenous people.

This collective call to action is not designed to confront policy change, but creates an opportunity to embed handmade earthen objects with empathy -- from nation to nation, from human to human. These small clay objects embedded with a fist print, will string together a line of solidarity, building global consciousness around Indigenous peoples and our connection to movement and land. In opposition to the incarceration and militarization that separates geography, Something to Hold Onto pieces together people and places in a tapestry of borderless compassion.

Something To Hold Onto, Cannupa Hanska Luger, 2019.  Videography and Editing: Razelle Benally.

Something To Hold Onto, Cannupa Hanska Luger, 2019.
Videography and Editing: Razelle Benally.

Please send unfired clay beads by April 25, 2020 to:

For UPS/FedEX and other freight companies:

Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum at Mesa Arts Center
c/o Judy Dahms-Brouillard
One East Main St
Mesa, AZ 85201


Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum at Mesa Arts Center
c/o Judy Dahms-Brouillard
PO Box 1466
Mesa, AZ 85211-1466


Something To Hold Onto is the second project in Cannupa Hanska Luger’s Counting Coup series which aims to utilize social collaboration to re-humanize large and abstract data through the process of creating handmade objects. 

As massive migratory populations, Indigenous peoples have shared land and knowledge long before European contact, certainly before the notion of militarized borders. The US borders shared with Mexico, Canada, and Russia are straddled by the homelands of over 40 Indigenous nations, twelve of which have reservations that either touch or are within a mile of the Canadian or Mexican border. Many more have relationships—including kinship ties—that straddle these international boundaries. Geopolitical borders impose arbitrary divisions, interrupt Indigenous sovereignty, disconnect us from relatives, and undermine our agency. Capitalism and colonialism have drawn lines all over our lands, killing our people and our way of being with land and each other. An institution of “othering” has been a central tactic to the colonizing agenda to “divide and conquer.” In fact, settler colonialism has prevented the recognition of kinship between fellow Indigenous communities. 

The US/Mexico border is particularly politicized; border patrol tactics divert people from crossing by traditional migration routes, forcing them to cross riskier landscapes such as rivers and deserts. To protect an imaginary line imposed on occupied Indigenous land, death has become a means of political and social control. According to US Border Patrol statistics, approximately 7,209 migrant lives have been lost along the southwestern border over the past 20 years. This is vastly underestimated. The deaths of Indigenous migrants and the lack of data is relevant to other travesties practiced on Indigenous lands such as industrial extraction and the epidemic murder of our Indigenous women, girls, queer and trans community members. The tribes directly affected by the US/Mexico border include Pascua Yaqui, Yaqui in Mexico, Tohono O'odham, Tohono O'odham in Mexico, Cocopah-Pima, Gila River, Akimel O'odham, Pai Pai, Kumeyaay, Lipan Apache, Jumano-Apache, Quechan, TIgua, Kickapoo, Mescalero Apache and Hualapai.

Something To Hold Onto responds to the unfathomable number of deaths that occur during migration. The death toll numbers are huge; how do we have considerate conversations around these everyday traumas? To better make sense of this, I enlist communities to generate a massive amount of objects that can physically represent this data. For this project, I have asked people to contribute in creating over 7,209 hand-made beads that will be strung together in a large-scale art installation. Through a collection of singular objects, I hope to translate these incomprehensible data sets into a tangible quantity, a physical scale, a spatial reality. 

Each bead acknowledges someone who has died through the denial of their migratory rights. But moreover, each bead is embedded with a fist-print, acknowledging the witness of an individual maker, of someone who cares. Each object represents an individual, is made by an individual, and takes up real physical space. Rather than a massive single number, the work represents a multitude of individuals. Seeing this as a volume of handcrafted beads triggers something in people’s brains; it makes the unthinkable more real and makes connections through shared empathy. When strung together with other individuals, the line becomes an entity of its own. It becomes a symbol of solidarity. It illustrates how a line not only divides but also unifies. 

While contributing to a monumental artwork, we are also creating something to hold onto. With aims to honor the lives lost, the work also celebrates the effort it takes to collectively affect change. It represents a magnitude of care. The unfired clay beads represent a quantifiable number of people who have a hand in shaping communities, driven by the desire for something to hold onto -- in their morality, humanity and relationships. Something To Hold Onto actively engages those working towards Indigenous sovereignty and the liberation of Indigenous migration routes. 

I see this work is a way to recognize our Indigenous relatives in Mexico and Central/South America who are suffering from disrupted migration routes and policed movement. A border may change our relationships to land but it does not alter our Indigeneity or make us less connected to each other. Indigenous peoples of North and South America in solidarity form the second largest population in the world. This is Something to Hold Onto.  -Cannupa Hanska Luger


Something To Hold Onto will be installed as the anchoring work for Luger’s exhibition Passage, May 8 - August 2, 2020 at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum at Mesa Arts Center, Mesa, AZ. The ephemeral installation will be presented as a large scale immersive installation mirroring a monumental floor mural created by Tohono O'odham artists Thomas ‘Breeze’ Marcus and Dwayne Manuel. In addition Luger will present a new collaborative work with artist/designer/craftsperson Tanya Aguiñiga. Aguiñiga will also curate an info shop to accompany the exhibition informed by her role as the founder and director of AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides), an ongoing series of artist interventions and commuter collaborations that address bi-national transition and identity in the US/Mexico border regions. The works and information presented in Passage consider ancestral migratory routes and the lands of Indigenous peoples affected by borders, acknowledging contemporary asylum seekers and our changing relationships to land. More details TBA.

Public workshops with Cannupa Hanska Luger:

September 20-21: Art on the Atlanta BeltLine, Atlanta GA. 20th: 3 Hearts coffee// 21st: Lantern Festival
September 25-26: Temple Contemporary/Tyler School of Art + Architecture, Philadelphia PA