An Artistic Response to Sex Trafficking

08.29.2013 | Fine Arts

By Lauren Glass, '13

A shadow of fear lurks past her face, yet her eyes show a trickle of hope. She gazes upward toward the arm stretching down to save her, toward the promise of a future where she can shed the terror and the pain. Pouring down from above and surrounding her are voices of love and encouragement:

Break away. You have worth, you mean something. Courage. Out of darkness comes light.

She clasps the hand of her savior, pulling her up from despair; but her captor seizes her by the ankle, refusing to let go.

What I just described is the new mural currently on display at ArtStreet. This mural, "The Struggle of Prosperpina," is one of the most powerful works of art I have ever seen. I catch myself stopping and staring at it for several minutes every time I pass, and knowing the theme of the work, and the story behind it, gives the piece an even greater impact.

The mural, created especially for the University of Dayton, was made by internationally recognized street artist Joel Bergner. The theme of the piece is the issue of sex trafficking, and the scene is taken from the story of the Roman goddess Proserpina who was rescued by her mother after being abducted by the god of the underworld. In the mural, Proserpina symbolizes all the women, men, girls, and boys being trafficked into sex slavery in the world today.

However, the best part about the piece, to me, is that I helped; and not just me, but over 150 other students from the University of Dayton and the surrounding Dayton community as well. If you’ve seen the piece already, you may have noticed the different images, words, and phrases throughout. Those were all contributions made by these students.

That’s because Joel’s goal is to create a piece that has “impact as a work of art after it’s finished, but also during the process.”

To do this, Joel held workshops for local high school students, ArtStreet residents, and first-year and international students at UD throughout the process of painting the mural. At these workshops, he taught them about the issue of sex trafficking, and then allowed them to express their response to the presentation through painting or writing on the mural.

In the workshops, Joel emphasized to the students the fact that sex trafficking hits closer to home than they might realize: “A lot of people think it’s this thing that happens overseas, but it’s actually happening right here in America.”

In fact, in the workshop I attended with Joel, I learned that Dayton is a hotbed for sex trafficking because of its convenient location on the intersection of two major interstates. I also learned that Toledo is one of the places in the U.S. with the highest rates of sex trafficking, and that Super Bowl weekend is the busiest time for sex trafficking in the U.S.

Joel finds that teaching through art is one of the best ways to raise awareness about issues among students: “It’s not too hard because all kids like to draw. They get really excited about getting up there and drawing these images, or writing these words.”

The result is a story not just told through the eyes of one artist, but through the eyes of a collective of youth. When I look at the mural and see the smaller images and the writings, some in English, some even in different languages, I see a community stitched together from people with drastically different backgrounds. I see a community formed through a common concern. I see a community of individuals who together embody those voices of hope and encouragement that surround Proserpina in the mural, and all those surviving in the world of sex trafficking today.

The mural, as well as prints of Joel's previous works, are on display in ArtStreet Studio D Gallery through September 17. Visit Joel's website to learn more about the artist >>

Lauren Glass is a senior at the University of Dayton who is studying journalism. Currently working as a social media assistant for ArtStreet, she enjoys music, writing, and photography.

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