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The Place Where Clouds are Formed 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. The threat of the wall being built on the border is a threat to their sovereignty.

The Place Where Clouds Are Formed is a collaborative documentary project between O’odham poet and linguist Ofelia Zepeda, photographer Gareth Smit, and doctoral research fellow Martín Zícari. The work consists of photography, poetry written in O’odham and English and translated into Spanish as well as community responses to the work. The poetry is recorded and accessible through QR codes and for a few poems, includes some reflections from Zepeda about the poems and photographs.

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 (1848), and later the Gadsden Purchase (1854), the O’odham were repeatedly divided and clustered by federal laws.

The photographs in this project were made through collaboration, consultation and guidance from the Traditional O’odham Leaders (TOL) in Sonora in 2018-2019. In Sonora, photographs were made in the communities of Quitovac, Sonoyta, Cu:w I-ge:sk (San Francisquito) and surrounding areas and with informed consent and collaboration with the communities and participants involved. Some photographs were made in Saguaro National Park and in Organ Pipe National Monument.

 In 2019 the work was shown at two pop up community exhibitions: the first, in Quitovac, and the second, at the Tohono O’odham Community College. Community members were invited to contribute to these exhibitions through discussion groups. Those who participated shared poetry, spoken word, photography and personal reflections. 

In 2020, the work was exhibited at the Tucson Museum of Art’s community exhibitions space for one year. The opening was attended and addressed by a delegation from the TOL from Sonora that represented Quitovac, Puerto Peñasco and Sonoyta. Tohono O’odham artists Reuben Naranjo and Amber Lee Ortega contributed ceramic art, photography, poetry and personal family histories and memories to this exhibition.

This collabroation – now a community arts project that also commissions collaborations from local artists – is in its fourth year and will continue through a grant from the University of Arizona's Confluence Center and the A.W. Mellon Foundation.