The best political art comments on the most salient issues of its times and forces viewers to confront uncomfortable truths. A guerrilla art installation that popped up overnight in 24 different locations in New York City fits that bill perfectly.
The installations were designed to protest the Trump administration immigration policies that have torn refugee children from their parents and incarcerated them in substandard conditions in shocking displays of inhumanity.
As people arrived at work today in multiple busy sections of the city — including areas in front of major news organizations like CNN, Fox News and the offices of Google — they encountered small cages made out of chainlink fence containing representations of a small child wrapped in a foil blanket and accompanied by the recorded audio of the actual cries of detained immigrant children. The fences were adorned with a single sign reading “#No Kids In Cages.”
Peeking out of the foil blankets were shoes and a shock of hair, with the foil covered bodies apparently fashioned out of paper.
The pop up political art was designed by ad agency Badger & Winters in support of RAICES, an immigration and refugee legal assistance nonprofit in Texas, according to a report in The Washington Post.
RAICES Executive Director Jonathan Ryan described the message that the art installations were meant to convey:
“The litmus test of any society is how it treats children. By normalizing the detention of children in cages, we’re only going further down the path of forsaking the rights of all children.”
While the physical representation of children locked in cages was so much more impactful than viewing the same images as news footage through the distance of a TV screen, it was the audio of wailing toddlers that had the most powerful effect on passers-by.
— Tim Devane (@tdevane) June 12, 2019
According to the Washington Post:
“‘Papa,’ a detained child wept in one recording at an installation, a real moment captured inside a holding facility and published by ProPublica last year. Border Patrol agents joked with each other in that recording, as children cried out for their parents. The audio drew immense public outrage and demands that the Department of Homeland Security change its policies.”
Describing the sounds of the detainees cries as “haunting” and “disturbing,” a news crew from a local TV station covering the sudden appearance of the installations was forced to move far enough away from the cage it was videotaping that the sound would be inaudible in its recording.
Police have begun dismantling the unpermitted guerilla political art installations, as the video below shows, although some of the cages were reported as to yet to be removed as of the writing of this article.
Hopefully, between the media coverage of the installations and the number of people encountering them personally on the busy streets of New York City, the message of the savagery and cruelty of the Trump administration immigration detention practices will burn into the brains of the people who see these concrete reminders of the president’s human rights violations and will inspire citizens to action.
At the very least, public political protests through art will keep people in New York from forgetting a problem they can easily avoid thinking about while living far from the places where these atrocities are taking place.
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Original reporting by Alex Horton at The Washington Post.