BELOIT — An exhibit to highlight the global issue of human trafficking opened to the public Friday evening at the Rotary River Center as part of a weekend with numerous events to highlight and educate the residents of Beloit.
"Bought and Sold: Voices of Human Trafficking" was opened in a ceremony that was attended by numerous representatives and community members, as well as the artist who put the exhibit together, Kay Chernush.
The exhibit consists of 14 dual-sided signs that depict human trafficking victims and their stories using words and photos compiled by Chernush. In 2005, she was hired for an assignment by the U.S. State Department to photograph victims of human trafficking for a report, and has been gripped by the subject ever since.
"I can only do what I do best, which is photography," Chernush said. "So I decided to make a difference through that."
The goal of the exhibit according to the artist is to re-frame the way we view human trafficking, and transform misconceptions, attitudes and behaviors about the issue. The exhibit has appeared around the world, and served as the inspiration to form ArtWorks for Freedom, an "aggregation of different artists' works" that are collectively designed to draw attention to this form of modern slavery.
"I hope that (by viewing this exhibit) people become aware that the problem exists right here in Wisconsin and in Beloit," Chernush said. "Once they know, people will become engaged and do something to counter human trafficking."
The exhibit was brought to Beloit in part by the Women's Fund of the Stateline Community Foundation. Pat Foster of the Women's Fund introduced Chernush and spoke of the effect it had on her personally.
"My eyes have been opened by this exhibit," Foster said. "We need to nip this issue in the bud."
Foster by her own admission was "kind of naive" to the presence of the issue until a discussion with a survivor who had been in Beloit during their time as a victim of human trafficking heightened her awareness.
"I had no idea how much of this was going on in Wisconsin," Foster said. "It shocked me that this was going on right in our back yard."
Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, was one of the numerous state and local officials in attendance for the ceremony, and highlighted the effectiveness of what Chernush had put together.
"It's very powerful, it articulates more powerfully through words and photos put together, rather than trying to explain to someone all the different ways that human trafficking presents itself," said Loudenbeck.
Wisconsin State Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, who was also in attendance, believes that more comprehensive legislation to address the problem of human trafficking is in the works.
"Legislature is just on the cusp of that. We have passed some legislation but certainly more can be done," Nass said.
The opening ceremony marked the first of a couple events this weekend that will encourage community participation in the process of educating the public on the issue. From 11 a.m. - noon today at the Farmer's Market, and 1 - 2 p.m. at the Harry Moore Pavilion in Riverside Park, community members will have the opportunity to participate in a community art activity called the Red Sand Project. Participants will pour red sand in sidewalk cracks to represent those marginalized victims that have fallen through the metaphorical cracks in society.
"Not My Life," an Academy Award nominated short film will also by shown at Community Action at 2:30 p.m. today. The exhibit will remain open outside the Rotary River Center through July 27. Chernush is hopeful that her work and the work of her partners at ArtWorks for Freedom will not just raise awareness, but inspire change.
"If you can't see the problem, you can't solve the problem," Chernush said.