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80 artists write messages of protest in the skies above ICE detention centers

Through a project called "In Plain Sight," several artists came together to send a message about freedom over Independence Day weekend.

80 artists write messages of protest in the skies above ICE detention centers
Image Source: inplainsightmap / Instagram

Over Independence Day weekend, 80 artists came together to create a masterpiece of dissent. Writing messages in the skies urging the United States government to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) detention camps, the artists attempted to fight a culture of injustice. While the rest of the country celebrated "freedom," even in the midst of a pandemic, thousands of undocumented immigrants remained locked up in cramped and unethical prisons, essentially. The project, entitled "In Plain Sight," was led by Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artists Rafa Esparza and Cassils. The art was displayed over 80 sites spanning detention facilities, immigration courts, and the southern border, CNN reports.


"[We have] come together to fight the culture of incarceration and focus [our] attention on abolishing ICE," said Cassils. "Some of [the facilities] are in the middle of nowhere, but some of them are in your city center, interwoven into our urban landscape." The project thus drew the average American's attention to injustices that are being committed right next door to their own homes or workplaces despite lockdowns of various intensities. Residents in the areas where artists displayed these messages would have seen statements such as, "CARE NOT CAGES," "NO MORE CAMPS," and "FREEDOM" scrawled across their otherwise blue skies.


The phrases all ended with the hashtag "XMAP," directing anyone who happened to see the message to the project's Instagram page and site, The website allows visitors to type in their zip code and see just how many detention facilities are currently in their area. There are at present upwards of 200 detention centers (typically privately run) across the United States. According to Cassils, the sky messages would have been visible to at least three million people in big cities, up to 20 miles away. The artists collaborated with the country's grassroots organizations and nonprofits to pull the project off.


Cassils stated, "We see the work not as artists being activists, but artists amplifying the work that activists already do so well." Though the project has come to an end, viewers will be able to access the messages—considered a "poetic act that [stayed] in the sky for 10 minutes"—online through an augmented reality app. Viewers will be able to see, for instance, the Spanish phrase "Nosotras te vemos," (We see you) which was projected over the South Texas ICE Processing Center which has a unit specifically for transgender women. Zackary Drucker, a consultant on the TV series Transparent, said she chose the statement as it is "the feminine version of the phrase, a subtle way of recognizing one femme to another." She affirmed, "I want to convey a message of unity to the transgender women and to all the people living in forced detention."


On whether the artwork would be seen as "anti-nationalist," Cassils argued that it was, in fact, an act of patriotism. "Skytyping is a methodology for delivering proud country messages on the Fourth of July," they explained. "We delivered these different kinds of sentiments that bring into question where we're at as a country in this moment and what it means to be an American. This is not a dissenting artwork; this is actually a very patriotic artwork."


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