On June 12, 2019, cages depicting a guerrilla art installation with ‘children’ locked inside appeared all over Manhattan NYC, wanting to make known the real situation of immigrant children that are currently living this reality in detention centers along the southern border of the United States. 24 sculptures were carefully distributed in the city that symbolized a young child, under a foil blanket on the floor inside a tiny cage, along with real audio being played of crying children that are being separated from their families. This disturbing sound was recorded live by news outlets.
Each sculpture shows a sign explaining the works and providing information about the campaign called ‘No Kids in Cages,’ which is run by the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, otherwise known as RAICES.
They created this artwork as a “protest to the more than 3,000 children separated from their parents at the border. This is not history. This is happening now. #NoKidsInCages is about the children. We cannot be a nation that separates families.” RAICES posted on their official Twitter account.
Naturally, these installations quickly went viral on different social media outlets, especially when the NYPD officers began impounding the artworks in different locations, which were carefully thought out and installed across major new organizations and media companies like the offices of CNN, NBC and Buzzfeed. They were also installed across known tourist destinations like the American Museum of Natural History and Union Square.
The demonstration was one solution to aim for Congress to pass the HR541, Keep Families Together Bill.
To make a bigger impact at getting their message across, RAICES partnered up with ad agency Badger & Winters, which the firm did pro bono. This partnership resulted in a part advocacy, part guerrilla ad, part art installation.
Madonna Badger, CCO and founder of Badger & Winters told artnet News that: “We were all really outraged when [family separation and the detention of children] first happened, but in this 24/7 news cycle it’s hard to hold on to that, because it seems like there’s something outrageous happening every single day. We wanted to do something that would stand out, to help save these kids.”
There were various concepts that were discussed for action but Badger felt that the cafe sculptures showcased with the recordings of the immigrant children crying was the most powerful and simplest message to get across, which also reflected the true conditions that RAICES had seen in border detention facilities.
“They don’t let you take out any photographs, and they don’t let you take any videos. The only thing [news outlets] could sneak out was the cries of the children.” Badger added.
The installations itself were designed by Square Design Inc., a Brooklyn-based design firm, assisted by ten street artists. One artist that was in charge of the installations, who prefers to be anonymous said: “We did it very early in the morning so that people would see them when they came out of the subway. If you’re conspicuous enough, people will assume that you’re supposed to be doing whatever you’re doing. We knew they wouldn’t last long out on the street, because no business or residence wants to be fined for sidewalk obstruction.”
True enough, within that morning, most installations had already been removed from the streets. In Midtown, almost a dozen policemen were outside the FOX News studios to disassemble one of the sculptures, according to NBC.
“It’s funny that they’re so efficient about taking something off the street that’s political,” said the anonymous artist. “If it was a couch or a baby carriage out on the street, it would take forever.”
There are no plans in claiming the artworks that were impounded, but Badger wants to create the same message-sending project in another city, possibly Washington D.C. “Our goal is to be able to bring this to more and more people’s attention,” she said. “Within a few hours, it was up to like 12 million impressions.”
And while setting up street art would be an unlikely reason to change the course of the decision-making of the House of Representatives, Badger hopes it will encourage the public to lobby for the HR541 and get things moving to help these immigrant children that were taken away from their families.
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