When I started using photography to document human trafficking, I realized that capturing victims' faces could put them at risk from further threat from their traffickers, and from re-exploitation by being frozen in their traumatic experience. That's when I changed my artistic approach to visualize their stories while protecting their identity. I also wanted my images to undermine stereotypes (e.g. chains, stilettos and bound wrists) and re-frame how we think about this human rights atrocity.
Art has a storytelling power that can capture the emotional complexities of social issues like human trafficking; it also allows us to go deeper in our understanding of why modern slavery takes place and how we can stop it. We need the talent and creativity of more artists to produce works that enhance the public's understanding of human trafficking. This is why we've provided "Tips for Artists Depicting Human Trafficking" in this month's newsletter.
We're also excited to introduce a new "Donor Spotlight" section this month, where we give thanks to our committed supporters. This month, artist Patricia Underwood explains why she decided to donate to ArtWorks for Freedom.
We hope artists and others will be inspired by this month's newsletter to become involved in anti-trafficking work. Contact us so we can discuss how we can help you how to get you started.
Tips for Artists Depicting Human Trafficking
(Photo: Kay Chernush)
By Fahim Gulamali, ArtWorks for Freedom Intern, Spring 2014
Dorothea Lange, an influential American documentary photographer, once said, "The camera is an instrument that teaches people to see without a camera.” Lange’s work documenting the plight of the country's sharecroppers, displaced families and migrant workers during the Great Depression exposed the harsh conditions under which America's poorest families were living.
Photographers and other artists continue the tradition of raising social consciousness about inhumane conditions throughout the world, but it is important to do so in ways that do not exploit those who are marginalized. In the area of human trafficking, it is especially important to create artwork that is sensitive, non-sensationalized and grounded in the truth of survivor stories. Artists wishing to engage in survivor storytelling through their work should remember:
Don’t re-expose. Human trafficking survivors were forced to expose themselves and their vulnerabilities to people they hardly knew. Don’t re-expose them by putting them in a spotlight they may not want to be in. This means being sensitive about showing victims or identifying them by name. It may ultimately mean not showing them at all.
Depict it like it is. Art is particularly useful in illuminating complex subjects, so use your work to depict human trafficking accurately. Depictions of the pitiable, bruised and frightened victims create a false image of what human trafficking victims are facing every day.
Think beyond the stereotypes. Part of raising awareness about human trafficking is avoiding stereotypes, like hyper-sexualized imagery, bound hands and chains. Artists are in a position to elevate the survivor stories in ways that do not get saturated in the stereotypical images we see all the time.
Avoid repetition. It is helpful for artists to base their depictions on real survivor stories; however, asking them to dig back into their past over and over again to get the ‘perfect image’ can be detrimental. Avoid gratuitously opening wounds of the past.
Listen, don’t pry. There is a fine line between asking someone to share their story and forcing someone to bring up every detail. Err on the side of caution and listen to what the person has to say. Trust is key in accurately sharing survivor stories, and always get permission to share certain details; don't ever assume it's okay.
These succinct but powerful tips can help artists lend their creative talent to survivor storytelling and exposing human trafficking in a way that accurately educates, inspires and sparks change.
ArtWorks at InterAction Forum
In June, ArtWorks was pleased to participate in the Artisan Trade Show held during the 31st Annual InterAction Forum. InterAction works to eliminate extreme poverty, uphold human rights, safeguard a sustainable planet and ensure human dignity for poor and vulnerable populations by advancing the goals of the U.S.-based international nonprofit community. Each year, InterAction convenes leaders from the nonprofit, government, philanthropy, corporate and civil society sectors to advance efforts to end world poverty and create a more sustainable global future.
Thanks to InterAction for inviting us to participate! See photos from the forum on InterAction's Facebook page.
"Why I give to ArtWorks for Freedom"
In a new donor spotlight section, we're giving a shout out to the donors who make our work possible!
Patricia Underwood, Visual Artist, Castleton, VA
"Unlike other organizations that deal with this issue, ArtWorks for Freedom is about the survivors and their stories...it is an honor to find ways to help the voiceless finally speak and heal.
I donate to ArtWorks for Freedom because it is the right thing to do, it reminds me of my freedom's value and helps those who have had this most fundamental human right taken away. I want to look back and know that I saw wrong and did not stay silent."
Like Patricia, you don't have to stay silent. Raising awareness is the critical first step to eradicating human trafficking, and your support of ArtWorks for Freedom helps raise worldwide consciousness of this global atrocity. DONATE TODAY