Smithsonian Museum Is Interested in Acquiring Art Made by Detained Migrant Children


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The Smithsonian National Museum of American History is considering adding the drawings made by formally detained migrant children to their collection. The artworks depict the time these young people spent separated from their families and show distressing imagery of stick figures behind bars and people on floors under blankets.

The works were drawn by children, between the ages of 10 and 11, at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. This is where many families go after being released from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody. While there, the kids were asked to show what their time in the detention center was like and did so on canvases.

The drawings were brought to light after the American Academy of Pediatrics toured the CBP facilities. Shocked by the squalor conditions, they shared the artwork with the media. The Smithsonian Institution got involved shortly after. According to a statement from the museum, they reached out on July 4, 2019 “as part of an exploratory process.”

In collecting these drawings, it would ensure the preservation of culturally relevant future artifacts. “The museum has a long commitment to telling the complex and complicated history of the United States and to documenting that history as it unfolds,” they write, “such as it did following 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and as it does with political campaigns.”

Ben Glass, the director emeritus of the National Museum of American History expanded on the move, stating that the institution strives to “to inspire people to know more about American history and to hopefully create a more humane society.” And while it could be seen as a political act, Glass counters with the argument that many of their acquisitions have “some political value or some political implication or consequence,” and curatorial decisions “will be made based on what kind of documentary record they're trying to create rather than making a political statement.”

h/t: [Big Think]

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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