Art Show Shines Light on Sex Trafficking’s Victims

The room is recreated with exquisite attention to detail: a scribbled price list for sexual services on a whiteboard. A large bowl with condoms spilling onto the end table. Half-used lipstick scattered among twisted thongs, high heels and toilet paper. A sickly perfume-type smell that clings to the torn wallpaper. A grimy stained bed designed to shudder under the weight of invisible, moving bodies. Men’s voices that alternately issue commands and groans.

The room is part of an immersive art exhibit, “Journey,” that depicts the experience of being a sex trafficking victim. The installation, made of seven shipping containers, was opened on Monday on Washington Place near Washington Square Park and will be open through Sunday. Visitors under 17 must be accompanied by an adult.

The exhibit is a collaboration of a dozen artists and was done under the aegis of the Helen Bamber Foundation, a British group that works with survivors of torture and abuse. Developed with a budget of 70,000 British pounds, “Journey” was originally shown in Trafalgar Square in London in September 2007, and now travels internationally.

The exhibit is a brainchild of Emma Thompson, the Oscar-winning British actress, who introduced the installation at a press conference with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Tuesday morning.

Ms. Thompson, who is chairwoman of the foundation, said she became aware of the issue of human trafficking when she was introduced to a woman who had essentially been a slave at a massage parlor that Ms. Thompson walked by every day on the way to the London subway “I was mentally, completely excoriated by it,” Ms. Thompson said. The inspiration for the project came from the woman’s request that people be able to understand, “just for five minutes, what it’s like.”

London and New York are hubs for human trafficking, though the victims’ countries of origin vary. London has many from Eastern Europe and Africa, and New York sees more from Latin America and Asia.

At the news conference, the mayor also announced a $2 million multilingual public advertising campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking. The campaign, which is to start in March, has the slogan “It’s happening here” and will include advertisements on buses, bus shelters and other media, said Norma Abbene, deputy counsel to the mayor, who is overseeing the campaign.

New York, Florida and California are all centers for human trafficking, according to Carol Robles-Roman, deputy mayor for legal affairs — New York, in large part, because it is a transportation hub with three airports, two of them international. The problem spills outside city boundaries. Long Island has also been identified as a region where trafficking is rampant.

The ads, which are designed by New York University students, will try to alert people to the existence of covert slavery. “When you walk, it’s in plain sight, but you don’t see it,” Ms. Abbene said. The campaign will use the languages that dominate in specific neighborhoods. At minimum, the languages will include Arabic, Chinese, Haitian creole, Korean, Russian and Spanish. Funds will come from outside sources, rather than from the city budget, Ms. Abbene said.

The advertisements dovetailed with the arrival of “Journey.” Each of the exhibit’s seven shipping containers are named for a different stage of human trafficking: “Hope,” “Journey,” “Uniform,” “Bedroom,” “Customer,” “Stigma” and “Resurrection.”

Contributing artists include Anish Kapoor, a winner of the Turner Prize; Sandy Powell, an Oscar-winning costume designer; MODE2, a British artist; Simon Stephens, a playwright; and James Oster, a photographer.

Mr. Oster went to six brothels in three British cities and hired prostitutes to take pictures of him, which were assembled for the “Customer” exhibit. It is unusual to have so many artists working on a mutual goal, he said. “There is so much ego in art,” said Mr. Oster, who flew in from London for the opening. “To remove the ego, to have a common objective, is brilliant.”

The exhibit is open at the following times: Tuesday through Friday, from noon to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 15, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.


Published in: on November 23, 2009 at 7:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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