The Street Performance
In the spring of 2014, I was given a hefty challenge from an art professor: create a piece of work NOT in a traditional media and that included public interaction. WHAT! It was quite a challenge for me considering I had not done anything outside of traditional media up to that point and had certainly never done a performance art piece. My mind jumped directly to human trafficking and expanding the work that I do for advocating about social issues through art.
Fast forward a few weeks of tireless work later, and I was standing on a street by the old historical courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh wearing a white tattered dress and sporting black face paint covered with rhinestones. Four of my friends/collaborators either stood beside me in equally outrageous outfits, handed out flyers and spoke to passing pedestrians, or took photographs of us in the demonstration.
It was a horrifically freezing day and raining a light drizzle. I was also barefoot in my costume. Did I mention it was freezing? There weren’t many people on the street, and even fewer were near the picturesque spot by the courthouse we chose next to a bus stop. People were cold and uninterested in anything other than finding a warm place out of the rain. Could we have been given worse weather for the big day? We handed out only a few meager pamphlets out of the 200 print copies on hand.
While we stood in the rain, sometimes in poses and sometimes interacting by handing out the flyers, our photographer Howard Kim snapped some amazing photographs. He beautifully captured the spirit and message of the demonstration and brought the project to a whole other level!
After not even perhaps 20 to 30 minutes later, a security guard of the historic landmark courthouse told us we would be arrested if we hung out on the sidewalk by the courthouse any longer. (I guess I didn’t do my research on where one can do these things very well!) This both flustered us and amused us. Flustered because we were advocating for a righteous cause and not causing any harm or commotion. Amused because how often can one say they were almost arrest for doing an artistic street demonstration! (One might almost consider that a badge of honor in this line of work.)
Was the street demo a success? I’d honestly call it a bust. But a few interesting things did happen: seeing the reactions of the few people that came by. A few were interested in what we were doing and likewise interested in the topic, many didn’t know anything about human trafficking, some completely lost interest in us as soon as they found out what it was for, and a surprising number of men seemed to find my tattered (yet still rather modest) dress and my painted face very appealing, were keen on flirting, and were very UNinterested in what the demonstration was about – even while I was covered in painted symbols of slavery. Their reactions (albeit mild) really impressed upon me a micro view of our macro society – people who knew and wanted to help, people who wanted to help but didn’t know how, people who simply didn’t care, and people who were interested in buying into and perpetuating the problem. Ultimately, I didn’t reach the number of people I wanted to with this project, but their reactions on the street were as telling and important to the project as the numbers – and THAT alone could turn into a telling sociology write up one day.
This project was a beautiful collaboration between myself and several other talented creators. While the project idea and direction is credited to me, I couldn’t have done it – nor would it have been so impactful – without the help of all of these wonderful people:
Stephanie Oplinger – Lead Artist, Demonstration Creator & Organizer, Costume Designer, Event Model
Howard Kim – Project Photographer
Courtney Lotz – Assistant Costume Designer, Event Model
Krystal Ritenour – Pamphlet Design
Ruby Sobus – Pamphlet Photographer
Ronald Hoffman – Event Model
Kaitlin Davis – Event Helper
Daniel Blake – Film Music
Information on Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery
Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery
The Human Tableaux Project and the 365 Day Charity Project are both about raising awareness and money for the survivors of human trafficking and modern day slavery. The following is a compilation of information and resources about these current event issues:
The United Nations defines human trafficking as the process by which a person is recruited to be controlled and held captive for the purpose of exploitation. In other words:
Slavery. Think, 'the smuggling of slaves from one place or country to another.'
Slaves?! Slavery still exists? Didn’t that end long ago?
Yes, it still exists. No, it didn't go away. There are an estimated 20-30 MILLION slaves in the world, though the actual number is probably much higher as not every person or situation in the world could ever be tracked.
Modern day slavery is typically categorized as either labor-oriented or sex-oriented. A majority of the slave trade deals with the trafficking and selling of captive are forced sex slaves, but labor slavery is also very rampant and just as thoroughly widespread.
EVERYONE. First world, third world, upper class, lower class, man, woman, adult, child – none are exempt from this form of exploitation. Strangely enough, modern day slavery is no respecter of persons or country. It occurs in almost every country in the world, in almost every major city. The United States is no exemption. In fact, an estimated 18,000 persons per year are trafficked INTO the United States, which does not even include the estimated 300,000 people a year exploited DOMESTICALLY. The highest number of the exploited is women and children, but men are hardly safe from modern slavery. And while it may be easier to exploit poverty-stricken individuals, upper class individuals have been easily and equally victimized as well.
Think it can’t happen in your state and city? Check out the map of affected areas here: http://www.polarisproject.org/state-map
After the drug cartels, human trafficking and slavery is the second most profitable illegal industry in the world, running neck and neck with the arms trade. It’s the fastest growing criminal enterprise in 21st century.
And it’s profit margin? Estimated to be anywhere from $12 BILLION to $42 BILLION globally.
Here are some of the other shocking and horrible statistics:
- 80% of the exploited are women.
- Children make up approximately 26% of the forced labor victims.
- 22% of the exploited in the sex trade are children. Estimated 1.8 million child sex slaves.
- The average age of forced sex workers is 12-14 years old.
- A sex slave may be forced to have sex 20-48 times a day.
*The numbers and statistics may vary slightly from source to source as there is no real way to get an exact count on this rampant world-wide industry.
The Polaris Project has put together a great resource for recognizing the signs of exploitation and human trafficking. View it here: http://www.polarisproject.org
Call 1-888-373-7888 or text to BeFree (233733).
C.A.S.T. also has a HOTLINE at 1(888) KEY-2(FRE)EDOM or 1(888) 539-2373
Remember, it is better to report a suspicion and be wrong than to not report it and have it be true!
Actress Jada Pinkett Smith helped devise an emergency app for your cell phone. Visit DontSellBodies.org for details.
The majority of trafficked persons are enslaved by an acquaintance. It’s good to be aware of this and the people around you.
What can I do to help?
Glad you asked! There are many ways (including donations) that you can help, but here are just a few suggestions on ACTIONS you can take to get started making a difference:
One of the most important ways to help is to learn the laws of your state or province: a lot of states in the United States do not have adequate laws to fully prosecute a rape case. A lot of state laws even wrongly prosecute the forced victims as the criminals. Get to know your state laws and get involved in your local, state, or federal government: start a petition, write or call your state or federal representatives, work to help change those laws to better protect people.
Get to know where your products come from. The Diamond industry, for example, is notorious for its exploitation and enslavement of its workers. Where are your jewels, your clothes, your food coming from? It can be hard to find out, but there are many companies and stores dedicated to providing slavery-free and conflict-free merchandise.
Take the Slavery Footprint survey to learn about where your products come from and how many slaves produce your purchases: http://slaveryfootprint.org
Become an advocate in your local community. A lot of people do not even know that they need to be careful. Set up an assembly or information meeting at your school, start a campaign and post flyers around town about the issue, write to your local newspapers and publications asking them to publish an article about the issue and how we can keep ourselves and others safe.
(Also, check out http://146taskforce.org to find a group to get involved with.)
Raise money for a charity fighting human trafficking. Set up a 5k race or even a marathon! Have a car wash, a bake sale, get creative! As you can see, I am attempting to do this with my artwork.
And lastly, it is illegal to purchase sex. More importantly, it is illegal and morally terrible to purchase sex from a forced and/or underage person. Even purchasing porn can cause a demand for underage or forced porn models. Your actions affect more than just yourself. Perhaps consider starting a local campaign to remind people.
(Norway and Sweden did it! Check it out here: http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca/learn/resources/swedish-approach-european-union-country-fights-sex-trafficking)
And, most important of all, if you suspect a case of human trafficking or abuse, please do not hesitate to report it. The Polaris Project Hotline is 1-888-373-7888.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”