things that matter

These Milk Cartons Are Bringing Attention To The Number Of Children Detained By The U.S.

Javier Rojas / mitú

During the 1980s and ’90s, photos would be put on milk cartons to raise public awareness about children who’d gone missing. 72U, a creative residency within agency 72andSunny, is now doing the same by installing a larger-than-life milk carton on Venice Beach to represent the more than 14,000 children who are currently detained by the U.S. government. The non-profit chose to highlight this issue because of the alarming number of detained children had risen from 2,400 in 2017 to over 14,000 in 2018.

The two-story polycarbonate Plexiglas milk carton is made up of 14,000 smaller cartons to represent each missing child.

CREDIT: CREDIT: Javier Rojas

The art piece titled “14,000 Missing Childhoods and Counting” is a project that took more than 2 months to build and was a collective work of eight different artists. Traecy Smith, 72U Residency Director, says immigration is one of the most contentious issues of our time and felt that art could be a way to shine a light on how drastic things really are. 72U has highlighted various social issues in the past and the agency felt this was appropriate considering the mass attention immigration received this year.

“Once I saw the number of separated children grew I knew we had to do something,” Smith said. “Society took their eyes off the issue but it was still happening and we knew if art could do anything is magnify the reality of the situation.”

The art piece was created from artists around the world including Mexico, Ecuador, and India.

2U residents Ginger Quintanilla, Taylor Alley, Tyler Hicks, Daniel Kim, Federico Zoppei, Jacqueline Miller, Raja Man, Wale Agboola, and Cristina Marquez came together to create the art piece. They hail from across the globe in places like Mexico, Ecuador, India, Africa, Italy, and Los Angeles. Many of the artists have seen similar social issues back home but were emboldened to create something after the Trump administration began separating families earlier this year. 

Smith says having a global collective of artists helped bring in various ideas and perspectives when creating the work. She says the issue of separated families isn’t just exclusive to America.

“By giving the art installation a global perspective, we acknowledge that the work and message isn’t just something that’s affecting people here in the U.S. but around the world,” Smith said.

Artists also consulted with many immigration organizations like the ACLU and Immigrant Defenders who gave input on the art piece. Smith says the art piece is part of a pending documentary on art and immigration as a whole.

Every milk cartoon inside the art structure has etchings on each box that represent aspects of children taken from detained immigrant youth.

CREDIT: CREDIT: Javier Rojas

Words like “Dad, “Freedom,” “Home” and “Future” are etched into the milk cartons to represent the wants of the children. Smith says she wants people to think of the reality for many of the children being detained and what they might be going through.

“We chose the milk carton for a specific reason,” Smith explained. “This is an item on every table and every family is aware of the milk carton and what it symbolizes, so that’s why we made this choice.”

The reaction to the art installation has been positive and has already gotten attention from the city of LA to possibly move the piece somewhere else in town for a longer stay. Smith says nothing is finalized but she sees the art piece finding a permanent home where more people can see the message.

The art installation has even gotten attention from people outside the U.S.

CREDIT: CREDIT: Javier Rojas

People from outside the U.S. have come to see the art piece because of its importance. It serves as a reminder of the lives for many in the immigrant community. Emilio Rosales came from Guatemala after he heard about the art piece on social media. He says the Trump administration’s policies are a humanitarian issue and feels that art like this highlights what’s really going on.

“What’s going on in America is sad and I see it all over the news and it makes you wanna do something about it,” Rosales said. “I look at this art and it makes me sad to know these children will never get to relive their childhood again. That’s the reality here.”

The art piece encourages people to engage via a QR code that links to a website created for the project. Visitors to 14000andcounting.org can sign an electronic petition and share campaign artwork on social media. The artwork is currently installed in Windward Plaza at the Venice Beach boardwalk.


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