An artist friend who wishes to remain anonymous—perhaps because he or she does not want to be carted off to an internment camp—sent me a text on Sunday containing the image above and the message:
Have you seen this sign for a future internment camp on Broadway? Much of the time I think art is useless, but this restores my hope.
Since Sound Transit did a fantastic job developing the transit station behind the chain link fence and since Sound Transit exhibited art in this very spot for years and years during construction—when the chain link fence was a red wall—I was eager to hear what they thought of this sign. I sent the image to Kimberly Reason, who works in Sound Transit media relations, and then left her a voicemail.
She called back and left me a voicemail, saying my inquiry was "the first I heard of it" and going on to say:
I did connect with our security and facilities teams and security came across it Sunday afternoon and took it down immediately. Both our security and facilities managers have alerted their teams to be on the lookout for these signs and to take them down immediately.
Wait, wait, wait—they took it down immediately? Why?
It was timely and smart and wickedly funny and Sound Transit was the one who got us used to seeing art on this block.
Reason wasn't having it. "The only signs that are allowed on Sound Transit property are Sound Transit directional signage that allow passengers into and out of our stations," she said.
What about all the "we're about to build a huge new building here" signs? The block is covered with signs like that right now. Signs like this:
Reason allowed that that was "certainly true, but that's property that's being used as the result of surplus property from Sound Transit projects."
When I mentioned that Sound Transit got us all used to expecting art on this particular block, Reason replied, "Wait a minute, are you seriously calling this art?"
To which I replied: Yes! I'm seriously calling it art! The best art I've seen in ages. Maybe the best art I've seen since Trump became president. This is art that restores people's hope. I have that in writing. From a very, very brilliant artist.
Some googling reveals that the mastermind behind this sign is an LA artist who goes by the name Plastic Jesus. According to Plastic Jesus's website:
A few month ago the idea that people would be prevented from traveling to the USA whilst holding the correct credentials would have sounded crazy. Or that people having travelled here legitimately would be detained for no reason and without legal representation. Or that Immigration snatch squads would wait outside schools or public meetings to apprehend people even though their immigration status is currently being processed by the USA government... Not so far fetched now?
Similar signs went up around the country over the last few days.
"What I’m trying to get across is the thought that with Trump’s recent policies we’re actually possibly not that far away from some kind of detention center purely for immigrants," the artist told The Boston Globe. "A few months before the election it would have been completely unthinkable."
A closer inspection of the signs would have revealed them as a prank: Executive Order 9066 was the law signed in 1942 by Franklin D. Roosevelt that established internment camps for persons of Japanese ancestry, and a QR code in the lower right hand corner seemed a giveaway that something was amiss. Under normal circumstances, they might not have caused any alarm and been dismissed as an obvious joke, but (as you need not need to be reminded) we're no longer living in the halcyon days of three months ago. Things that may have once seemed unthinkable are starting to inch ever closer into the realm of possibility. With a president calling for the establishment of a government agency focused solely on publicizing crimes committed by immigrants—and, included in today's executive order, instructing the Department of Homeland security to track the number of "honor killings" perpetrated against women by foreign nationals—does the prospect of internment camps really seem crazy anymore?
That was the idea, says street artist Plastic Jesus, who enlisted a team of collaborators to post the notices over the weekend in cities like Miami, Seattle, Chicago, New York, and Detroit, where one also caused a brief stir. The Los Angeles artist has become notable with similar stunts over the past couple of years—a sort of Banksy of the viral age.
Esquire also reports that "Plastic Jesus is a British green card holder who has lived in the United States for 10 years. He says he's yet to experience any effects of the travel ban himself, but has had numerous friends and family members who've already encountered trouble, including a UK citizen who was detained at LAX over the weekend because of her Lebanese last name."
The Stranger reached out to Plastic Jesus by email, but we haven't heard back.
Meanwhile, I've been in my office arguing with Sound Transit about what art is.
On the subject of Sound Transit exhibiting art on this block for years and years, Reason said, "Any art that goes up at our station is art that we commission with local artists and art that we approve."
So, by implication, they do not approve.
But then again, they don't even think it's art. I wasn't keeping track of what I said in response, but my officemate Sean Nelson was. He overheard the conversation and wrote down something he heard me saying, and then handed it to me when I got off the phone: