The production of the Contagious Migrations originally began in 2000 with an older iteration of the sculpture titled Infectious Migrations, which was part of the 2000 Whitney Biennial. Originally conceived in the aftermath of the AIDS crisis, the piece critiques the construction of a disease-ridden ‘other,’ and the intercorrelation of illness with systemic oppressions, such as homophobia, racism, and xenophobia.
The background of the piece is composed of found hand-drawn exhaust and ventilation maps from the Columbia University Center of Disease and Control from 1968, and points to another historical moment in which fear of disease was imbued with systemic oppression. 1968 was a year of a flu pandemic in the United States, which was caused by a flu strain derived from China and led to a surge of racism and violence toward East Asian peoples.
The piece is ripe with medical residue: plastic tubing, latex and rubber gloves. The tubing underscores the phenomena of transmission, referencing both the transmission of medicines, as well as the global movement of people, goods, and disease via colonization, enslavement, immigration, or trade. The piece also contains elements of or associated with the human body such as fake fingernails and eyelashes, highlighting the human beings impacted by both disease and persecution.