While art can often depict scenes of serenity or objective beauty, it also has a very unique ability to provide social criticism in a visual medium. The latter is on full display in the exhibit in the Social Work Library, located on the basement level of Boston College’s McGuinn Hall. Bought & Sold: Voices of Human Trafficking is artist Kay Chernush’s depiction of a globalized society that has forced girls and women, through dire financial straits or the promise of a better life, to engage in prostitution. This same society has created a black market for other kinds of sex trafficking, in which girls and women are taken from poor countries or communities and trafficked hundreds or thousands of miles to those who pay for them.
Large pieces of art hang on the walls throughout the Social Work Library. Posted next to each piece is a plaque of wall text. Instead of including the medium of the piece, or a description by the author, these texts are simply quotes. They are attributed to women who have been sex trafficked across places like Russia, Thailand, the Netherlands, Germany, Nigeria, and Italy.
One of the first pieces one might see when walking into the library is a large and blurred picture of a man. Next to him is the faded image of a young woman, blending and disappearing into the background. When the wall text of the piece, Somebody’s Brother Son Father, is taken into account, the context of the piece comes into full view, and is incredibly moving and saddening. The quote is introduced as “A john’s’ narrative.”
It reads: “Why do you care if older men are with younger women? Is it any of your business? This is just a wedge issue to try and get a global ban on prostitution. That’s the true aim. It’s not child sex. In my opinion, very few men are having sex with minors in Pattaya. Yeah, it happens. But hey, these women here, they have different values, a different culture. They’re available. How do I know she’s being forced?”
This message was sent in an email by an Australian sex tourist who had visited Thailand. The rhetoric of this message begins disgustingly, and only becomes more appalling as it continues. With this sobering piece at the start of the exhibit, viewers get a good sense as to the content of the rest of the pieces.
The next piece is titled Sex Tourist. It depicts a blurred couple. Again, the man occupies the majority of the area, while the woman fades into the background. The text contains a quote attributed to a Thai woman who was trafficked from her rural community to a resort town in the south, where sex tourism is more popular.
“Here they rent girl, one hour, all night, have as much girlfriend as they want, as much sex. They must have a hole where their heart should be.”
Reflecting this quote, the man in the piece has been graffitied, tracing his body in white, and leaving a swirling black mass in the center of his chest.
Another piece, called Barcode, depicts the way these women are treated like items in a store. A quote from a Brazilian woman who was trafficked to Suriname and the Netherlands is attached.
“We were forced to go with a certain number of men everyday—keep them happy, keep them drinking, have sex with them…It was like being kidnapped, except we were the ones paying the ransom. They just sell you—you’re nothing but a product to them.”
These pieces only scratch the surface of the rest of the exhibit. Furthermore, Bought & Sold only touches on the rampant problem of the sex trafficking of women and children all around the world. This is a problem that has seen larger and larger awareness by much of the developing world but, as Chernush demonstrates in her art, there hasn’t been much work done to eradicate it. In an increasingly globalized world, many people are striving to stay abreast of the times. Yet, as Bought & Sold shows, globalization has also left many behind and, even worse, brought some along against their will.
Featured Image by Katie Genirs / Heights Staff