The Vermont Cynic

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Activists raise awareness through art

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A budding club aims to draw attention to the prevalence of modern day slavery through direct action and art activism.

On Dec. 2, students crossing the courtyard of Royall Tyler Theatre courtyard or taking the steps to the Bailey/Howe encountered striking red trails of sand-filled sidewalk cracks and hand drawn chalk messages such as “Slavery still exists,” and “Don’t let people fall through the cracks.

This day marked both the International Day for Abolishment of Slavery and the first on-campus demonstration by the Human Trafficking Activism and Awareness club.

The Red Sand Project is an international art-based initiative designed to raise awareness of human trafficking, club officer senior Natalie Akel said.

“A huge pillar of what our club as a community does is art therapy and we try to incorporate it into every meeting,” Akel said. “This opportunity fell into place really well with our mission, so we reached out and applied to the project.”

Not long after, the club received dozens of bags of sand and messages to spread in the community, she said.

The participatory demonstration, or sidewalk intervention, was created by NYC-based experiential artist Molly Goochman. “Earthwork installations and convenings create opportunities for people to question, to connect and to take action against vulnerabilities that can lead to human trafficking and exploitation,” according to  the Red Sand Project website.

The intent behind the visual representation is physically spreading across the land awareness of the ever-present trade in labor, organs and sexual slavery, officer junior Sophie Robledo said.

Worldwide, human trafficking is hidden in plain sight, Robledo said. The sidewalk cracks running blood-red serve to shed light on the presence and gravity of these crimes.

“Once you know what it is you can’t forget,” she said. “The sand sticks around for weeks, and is biodegradable and represents a natural part of our society sticking out.”

The demonstration expresses pain in a unique way, drawing on thoughtful expression without relying on exploitative imagery such as chained children or abducted exchange students, an idealized face of trafficking often purported by media, Akel said.

“The message isn’t of pity,” she said, “it’s of recognition and that’s the first step to solidarity.”

The HTAAC materialized out of a social work class on the subject that is no longer offered, although both officers agreed it was the most powerful course they’d taken, spurring them to engage the community on the unrepresented issue.

“One of our main goals as a club is to pave the way for access to resources for victims of human slavery, whether that be creating supply bags for foster children or volunteering downtown with other socially-minded organizations,” Akel said. “We are creating a platform for civil engagement.”

The club officers invite interested students to education and outreach opportunities with the HTAAC in January, which is Human Trafficking Awareness month.

The HTAAC meets every Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Living/Learning Center, room 314.

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Activists raise awareness through art