Every year, millions of people are displaced from their countries of origin due to wars, conflicts, persecution, and natural disasters. According to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), there are approximately 65.3 million people currently displaced worldwide, the highest number ever recorded and expected to grow. With this increase comes the emergence of “temporary” settlements to host the displaced. These settlements are neither the product of local culture nor their environment. They typically form following major disasters and disruptive events, as thousands move to remote locations assigned by international organizations and other countries. Though these camps are designed to be temporary, past examples show that most will become permanent features in the landscape. These are the between places, sites in limbo with citizens of nowhere.
As a child, I was one of these displaced people from Thailand. My family was lucky not only to live through three camps but also to have the opportunity for resettlement in northwest Ohio. We never discussed our experience in refugee camps in depth, but I had random faded memories of them as I grew up—the red dirt, the heavy rain, touching an elephant, going through the feeding center, the taste of powdered milk. I remember lifeless bodies floating along the river and holding my mother’s hand watching fireworks, later to understand we were watching bombs and artillery.
Once we resettled, my experience in our new country was good, and the process of adapting and assimilating to our new environment and culture was organic. However, I had a constant, underlying feeling of restlessness—of wanting to know the who, what, why, and how of displaced populations and reconnect with them in order to better understand my own history and identity.
I now use art, architecture, and information mapping/visualization as tools to explore and dissect these between sites and other places that change constantly through the migration of people and/or environment conditions. My process of researching and making is both personal and reflects a larger global context. My work visually examines the vast, complex landscape of political, social, cultural, and personal stories of human displacement. The cartographic drawings combine data and information visualizations with human stories, creating pieces that are both literal and abstract. The work allows viewers to access and appreciate factual complexities while connecting with the people behind the data, forming a visual bridge between people, places, and context.