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Billboards amplify plight of detained migrants

Albuquerque-based artist Josh Patterson created the billboard to bring awareness to social injustice. It sits on Interstate 25 near Bernalillo. (Courtesy of Fronteristxs/Martín Wannam

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A message on a colorful billboard outside Bernalillo reads, “Chances are they’re playing with our lives.”

Under the artwork are the hashtags #FreeThemAll and #CareNotCages.

It’s the work of Albuquerque artist Josh Patterson.

Patterson was one of three New Mexico artists chosen to create a billboard as part of a project from the collective fronteristxs.

“They contacted me through Instagram, and I looked into what they represent as a nonprofit,” Patterson said of the group. “Their entire mission was enlightening, and I wanted to be part of making a difference.”

The billboards are part of the fronteristxs collective’s ongoing efforts to support both the local and national #FreeThemAll campaign to demand the release of detained migrants and incarcerated people.

Three billboards with #FreeThemAll and #CareNotCages messaging went up at the end of November and will remain up until Christmas.

Patterson is joined by fellow New Mexico artists Marina Eskeets and Vicente Telles. Eskeets’ billboard is on Interstate 40 near Grants, and Telles’ is on Interstate 10 near Chaparral.

According to Martín Wannam, project manager for the collective, the locations were chosen as front-line sites of both the criminal justice and immigration system, because prisons, jails and detention centers are in these counties.

Some of those facilities have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We wanted to bring awareness to the community, because art right now isn’t being consumed in gallery spaces,” Wannam said. “We had to think big, and billboards were the way to go to get a message across in about 10 seconds.”

Wannam said the billboard project is a way to bring further awareness to this urgent call in the COVID-19 pandemic, when there are outbreaks at detention centers, jails and prisons. “These systems have been painfully negligent and unprepared in protecting those housed inside,” Wannam said.

The funding came from Art for Justice, an organization that makes direct grants to artists and advocates focused on safely reducing the prison population, promoting justice reinvestment and creating art that “changes the narrative” around mass incarceration.

Wannam said there are plans to get four more artists for the billboard project in early 2021.

Eskeets said she wanted to create a splash for drivers along I-40.

Her billboard reads “Indigenous Free Roaming,” a phrase she’s worked with for about five years.

“When I say ‘Indigenous,’ I mean people that are from the area,” she said.

Eskeets grew up in Church Rock, the site of a disastrous uranium spill in 1979.


Dine artist Marina Eskeets created the billboard near Grants. (Courtesy Fronteristxs/Martn Wannam)

“There are areas that you’re not allowed to go to because of exposure to radiation,” she said. “That impedes the natural migration of my people. That’s where ‘free roaming’ comes into play.”

Eskeets worked with bright colors such as pink, yellow, turquoise and orange for her piece.

“I felt like it was really important that the mural be extra bright and loud, especially against the natural landscape,” she said. “I also wanted the landscape to be part of it.”

Albuquerque-based artist Vicente Telles created the billboard to bring awareness to social injustice. It sits on Interstate 10 near Chaparral. (Fronteristxs/Martn Wannam)

Telles’ piece has three children with cages over their heads. It is in southern New Mexico, near the New Mexico/Texas border.

“On one level, it’s an honor to be recognized for my work and word and to be able to communicate those ideas to the community that the billboard inhabits,” Telles said. “It means a ton to me.”

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