“In Plain Sight”: an artwork flying high to raise awareness about immigration issues in the US

“In Plain Sight”: an artwork flying high to raise awareness about immigration issues in the US
An AR still from the 4th Wall app of Zackary Drucker's “Nosotras Te Vemos” (We see you) at the South Texas Detention Complex that was part of In Plain Sight. Credit: Zackary Drucker via The New York Times.
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Looking up at the sky, borders become non-existent. Many of the same issues we face here on the ground – particularly in terms of boundaries – seem to disappear in the light blue sky that often seems endless. Over the weekend, though, the sky is exactly where XMAP: In Plain Sight, a collective artwork, was broadcast to raise awareness about immigrations and incarceration. The timing of the project further highlighted issues of social injustice as the work was shown on Fourth of July weekend, when the US celebrates its Independence Day, which is synonymous with freedom for many.

Organised by performance artists Cassils and rafa esparza, XMAP: In Plain Sight is a collaborative work that brought together 80 artists, activists, and collectives of various backgrounds and mediums, including Dread Scott, Patrisse Cullors, Emory Douglas, Beatriz Cortez, and Sky Hopinka. Over the holiday weekend and through today, messages were written in the sky by skytyping planes above US immigration courts, detention facilities, former internment camps, and various other significant historic landmarks. The works are one of six parts, which include a docuseries and an augmented reality app, that make up the XMAP: In Plain Sight project.


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CARE NOT CAGES #XMAP : @osopepatrisse : Los Angeles – Over LA County Jail- shot from Griffith Observatory: July3 : Chris Mastro @kidmastro . We are honored to work with Patrisse- a fierce leader of the #blacklivematter movement. Her example of responding to injustice not with solely in anger but with dignity and unfettered dedication to breaking unjust systems Is the direction we need now. It is an honor to hold space in the sky with you Patrisse. . The liberation of immigrant, migrant communities, LGBTQI+ communities and Black communities are deeply bound together. The violence our communities suffer is rooted in white supremacy and colonization. We stand in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and their ongoing work for a just and free world. . ✊🏽YOU CAN HELP END IMMIGRANT DETENTION✊🏽 Go to: https://xmap.us/take-action ✈️☁️*Join* the movement #FreeThemAll Campaign + #AbolishIce. ✈️☁️ . *Donate* to Immigrant Detention Bond funds https://xmap.us/take-action . *Get to know* our partners in this effort: @migrantfreedom @detentionwatch @aclu_socal @haitianbridge @conmijente @familiatqlm @maketheroadnj @maketheroadny @raicestexas @carecen_la @culturestrike @the_ilrc @clinica_romero @laresistencianw @daylaborernetwork @elrescate_org @_salef @ciyja @glahr.ga @inplainsightmap @tsuruforsolidarity @ic4ij @puente.az @CEDIMAC1 @MexenEx @translatinacoalition #mayavision #thetornillocollective #centralamericanresearchpolicyinstitute . #closethecamps #abolishice #xmap

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The purpose of the temporary works was to raise awareness about social injustice rampant in the US’s immigration system and where these injustices are carried out. Over the weekend, XMAP: In Plain Sight uplifted the children and adults who have suffered from inhuman living conditions, the separation of detained families, violence, and, in some cases, death at the hands of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE.

The artists created different messages that dawned the sky, and though they were fleeting, they were poignant. Each phrase was thought up by participating artists and activists, for specific locations, all of which can be found here. Messages were limited to 15 characters and included statements, in a number of languages, like “LET LIVE” (phased by Mary Kelly and shown at the South Texas Family Residential Center), “TO BE HUMAN” (Shaun Leonardo shown at Rikers Island), “ICE WILL MELT” (jackie sumell shown at the New Orleans Field Office), and “ABOLISH POL(ICE)” (Defund the Police & Abolish ICE Collective shown at Santa Cruz County Jail).

Each statement was trailed by “#XMAP”, a hashtag intended to lead viewers to the website for XMAP: In Plain Sight which offers more information and resources concerning issues of immigration and ways in which people can become involved.

The locations chosen for the messages were specifically selected to show locals and people across the country where these detention centres, courts, and significant sites are, exactly. For many, issues of immigration are an “over there” or “out of sight out of mind” problem, when, in fact, immigration battles aren’t just fought along the US border. Instead, they’re fought in ordinary people’s backyards, from South Carolina to Alaska.

“I think the public is somewhat aware of what’s happening in detention centers—they’ve seen the images of kids in cages—but they don’t know the full scale,” said Cassils. “This project is about having faith that if people knew there was a facility across from the IKEA in Brooklyn where detainees were being tortured at the expense of their own tax dollars, then they would do something about it.”

XMAP: In Plain Sight has also sought out to offset the impact of the project by using Carbon Footprint Calculators to better understand the damage caused by the works. For each message written, XMAP: In Plain Sight artist Sam Van Aken is planting five fruit trees (in total, 40 trees will be planted) near detention and incarceration facilities in another series called “The Tree of 40 Fruit.”