From the ARCADE Issue 34.2 feature, “Architectures of Migration: A Survey of Displacements, Routes, and Arrivals.” Articles from the issue will release online over the following weeks. Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.

Sai Sinbondit Connecting Through Wondering

Connecting Through Wondering, 30" × 48", micropigment ink, graphite, color vellum, watercolor, digital print on Mylar. Data sources: Personal sketchbook and photographs, Google Earth, UNdata, Esri GIS. This image maps my random walk through a makeshift market in Oure Cassoni Camp in Darfur, including points of social interconnectivity.

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.

Sai Sinbondit Negotiating the World

Negotiating the World, 48" × 30", graphite, micropigment ink, acrylic, collage on layers of Mylar. Data sources: UNdata, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), American Red Cross, CARE, World Food Program, Catholic Relief Services. The UNHCR-managed refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, is the largest such camp in the world with more than 500,000 refugees, including some 10,000 third-generation refugees born in Dadaab. In this piece, the high population density, economic activity, and concentration of infrastructure and connectivity are overlaid upon each other and reflected by the clusters of colors. Social interaction is reflected with various line types connecting the two masses.

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.

Sai Sinbondit Palimpsest of a Site

Palimpsest of a Site, 48” x 30,” water-soluble color pencil, micropigment ink, graphite, watercolor on layers of Mylar. Data sources: UNESCO, UNData. Every year, thousands make the pilgrimage to Varanasi, India, in order to perform ablution from the city’s ghats, stone embankments along the bank of the Ganges River. The upper illustration shows how the population adapts to the river’s shifting tides. The middle set of visualizations focus on specific topics such as ethnicity, religion, class, and infrastructure. The lower illustration maps the rich topography of the stepped embankments through a digital 3-D model.