In early September, near the Mexican city of Tecate, and an hour southeast of San Diego, a massive photo of a young toddler named Kitito was placed right behind the border fence with California. If viewed from the American side of the border, the child seems to be peering curiously over the fence.
A French artist, who goes by “JR,” was responsible for this controversial piece. His speciality is taking portraits of ordinary people and placing them onto the sides of buildings. The concept of walls have been on this artist’s mind for quite awhile. Not just in his artwork, but politically as well. JR is called to place his art in locations where the residents’ humanity is in question, or seem to be silenced politically.
“Each time I’ve seen walls that have caught my attention, or that I’ve heard about a lot in the media, they would stick in my mind. I would even dream about it. When Trump started to talk a lot about a wall along the Mexican border, one day I woke up and I saw a kid looking over the wall. I was wondering, what is this kid thinking? What would any kid think? We know that a one-year-old doesn’t have a political vision, or any political point of view. He doesn’t see walls as we see them,” JR said in an interview with the New Yorker.
The toddler pictured lives along the border wall. In his quest to get closer to the border wall, JR knocked on a random house’s door– a door that led him to Kitito. The woman who answered welcomed JR into her home, and she had a young toddler and a daughter. After a short conversation, he left. He was drawn to the young boy because he was astounded by how closely he resembled the child in his dream. Without a second thought, he turned around and got approval from the mother to take photos and use the young boy’s portrait. JR thought that having a young child as the portrait would have more of an impact than a grown man would.
“I hope this will help people see us differently than what they hear in the media, that they will stop taking us like criminals or rapists. I hope in that image they won’t only see my kid. They will see us all,” Kitito’s mother said.
Although the artwork is politically charged in a sense, there is a great assumption that this piece is a response to Trump’s recent declaration of ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) since it’s reveal was around the same time. DACA is an immigration policy that lets individuals who were brought to America as children receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation so that they may study, work, and even obtain driver’s licenses. It would be easy to misconstrue the meaning of the artwork considering the recent events, and one could even portray the toddler looking over the border wall as a metaphor for young DACA recipients when they first arrived in the United States–young and unaware of where their own parents are bringing them to. However, the goal of the artist was not to bring a political discussion but a human discussion.
Sources: The New Yorker, National Public Radio