NJ artist uses caged baby dolls & Trump sign in immigration piece
MONTCLAIR — A polarizing art installation featuring images of young children at the country's immigration detention facilities has turned heads beyond the township.
The piece by artist Amy Putman, titled "So Well Taken Care Of," features a wire pet cage, filled with plastic brown-skinned baby dolls, with a 2016 Trump Pence campaign sign hanging in the background. It is on display in the store front of Modclair, along Valley Road in Montclair, through November.
Putman said she first created the artwork in 2018 after being moved to tears by images of children being held apart from adult family members in chain-link detention pens under the "no tolerance" policy enacted that year by President Donald Trump's administration in dealing with unauthorized entry to the United States.
Former First Lady Laura Bush called the administration’s actions “immoral” in a June 2018 commentary for The Washington Post, in which she noted the Department of Homeland Security had sent nearly 2,000 children to mass detention centers or foster care in just a six-week span.
Putman said the baby doll detention center piece was not initially going to be part of her current exhibit at the furniture store and design studio, but was a "last minute addition" as the studio laid out the artwork.
The issue of families separated at the border has been back in the news, after a federal court filing by the ACLU said that the U.S. government cannot locate the parents of 545 children who have been detained since 2017.
"So now we know that 545 children can't find their parents and that Trump and his administration have created 545 orphans," Putman said.
Since the installation was put up Friday, Putman said, "I'm getting great support and also an incredible backlash — which I understand, that this artwork will provoke people."
She said the backlash is especially noticeable on social media, in comments on posts about the exhibit.
When asked about the situation at the third and final presidential debate last week, Trump said that the "cages" where children are detained had been built by Pres. Barack Obama's administration.
Trump continued, saying "They did it. We changed the policy, and they built the cages."
Under Trump's administration, one change in policy was separating all families who arrived together without authorization — the so-called "zero tolerance" policy. A 2018 court ruling ordered the process halted, though advocates for immigrants say the process continued well afterward.
According to the Associated Press, while some families were separated under the Obama administration — generally if a parent had a known criminal record — nothing like the "zero tolerance" policy that resulted in thousands of Trump-era separations was in place.
An AP Fact Check does note, though, that "cages" — the chain-link fencing behind which migrant children have been kept at a center in McAllen, Texas — were a product of the Obama years.
"I just want people to remember those kids," Putman said. She continued: "It was just a perfect storm of timing. In the debate, when he started talking about them and he said they were so well taken care of, (the display) kind of named itself."
The immigrant-detention facilities were built in 2014, when the country had seen an increase in unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico.
According to the Associated Press, before Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, migrant families caught illegally entering the U.S. were typically referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation,.
Putman said she hopes the art exhibit also serves as another reminder for New Jersey residents to vote, in time for the Nov. 3 election.