Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

Art Exhibition Gives Voice to the Experience of Human Trafficking

The "Bought & Sold: Voices of Human Trafficking” art exhibition, currently on display in the social work library, is drawing the attention of the Boston College community to the issue of human trafficking.

The artist behind the exhibition, Kay Chernush, created the artwork by combining photography with the stories of trafficking survivors. The exhibit hopes to facilitate healing and empowerment while spreading awareness of the issue.

The Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program,Rallying Efforts Against Contemporary Trafficking (R.E.A.C.T.), and members of the sophomore class working on a social justice project focused on trafficking, all partnered to bring the exhibition to Boston College.

Chernush, who founded the anti-trafficking, nonprofit organization ArtWorks for Freedom in 2011, spoke to The Gavel about the exhibition and her work combating trafficking.

“Our idea is to use the power of art—the transformative power of all forms of artistic expression—in the fight to end human trafficking,” said Chernush.

“Art can tell authentic stories and can deal with dark and complex issues,” said Chernush. “Beyond that, art can transform how people perceive an issue and can inspire them to take action. This is really our ultimate purpose.”

Chernush also explained the process behind the creation of the exhibition. She first was inspired to create the images when taking documentary style photographs. Although this photography style could be powerful, she found that it was also limiting because it was impersonal and did not illuminate the stories of the people pictured.

Later on, Chernush had the idea of creating a more abstract image that captured human trafficking victims from the inside out by shooting portraits of survivors in one-on-one personal settings. During these shoots, her subjects often opened up and told her about their past experiences as survivors of trafficking. The portraits were not shared with the public, but Chernush used the survivor’s stories to create the art in the exhibit.

Survivor quotes are combined with abstract photography images to tell the story of each individual.

“My hope is that the images really sear into the viewers souls and hearts. That the images will crack open their hearts in a way that will empower them, enable them, and compel them to take their own creative action to fight human trafficking,” Chernush said.

Chernush also encouraged students to visit 30actions30days.org, an online resource which provides 30 actions that people can take to combat human trafficking. She emphasized that there is something that everyone can do to fight trafficking, no matter how small or large.

Sarah Santoro, CSOM ‘20, who helped to organize the display, described her hopes for the impact of the exhibition.

We hope that this exhibit will give people [a] pause [and] make them stop and consider the issue more fully. Our goal is to emphasize the immediacy and complexity of trafficking,” said Santoro.

She also explained the exhibit’s goal of starting a dialogue on trafficking.

“Human trafficking is an incredibly silencing issue,” said Santoro. “This exhibition is our attempt to combat this by sparking conversation [and] bringing these conversations from the periphery to the center of people's minds.”

Santoro described why art is an effective medium to raise awareness for trafficking. She pointed out that the victims of trafficking are often reduced to statistics or stereotypes that fail to capture the complexity of the issue.

“Art is a direct challenge to simplification,” said Santoro. “While there is no way to fully represent the experiences of every person affected by trafficking, and we are not claiming that this exhibition comes anywhere near to doing that, there is a power in art that does not try to explain or organize or classify, but simply asks the viewer to engage.”

The exhibit will be on display in the social work library, located on the bottom floor of McGuinn Hall, until Apr. 10.

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