“As long as there is demand for cheap labour or paid sexual services,
there will always be syndicates and individuals ready to exploit
the innocent for profits, especially the impoverished.”
– Sylvia Lee, Founder of EmancipAsia
Bought and Sold
by Emma Gatehouse
Bought and Sold – Voices of Human Trafficking is a photographic art exhibition on modern-day slavery whose theme is inconspicuous to people on Orchard Road until, that is, they pause to look closer at the powerful images and stories recounted by award-winning photographer Kay Chernush.
Chernush focuses on 18 victims’ individual experiences through an ensemble of creative imagery and anonymous victim narratives. Disarmingly inviting, a very different tone is revealed upon closer inspection. The narrated images are shockingly thought-provoking as individual accounts are suddenly brought to life and local pedestrians are afforded a glimpse of the experiences of young men, women and children who have endured the atrocities of modern-day slavery.
‘I was about 10 when she sold me. After first time they stitch you up – two, three, four times. I was four times virgin,’ reads one exhibit detailing the account of a Cambodian girl who had been trafficked within her country.
In another, a Nigerian girl recounts the torture and abuse she underwent as she was passed through trafficking rings in Nigeria, Morocco, Spain and The Netherlands. ‘I was young…ten…he put water in the bath and put pepper in it. So I had to get naked and lie down…I was screaming, crying, begging him.’
Closer to home, a migrant tells of her nightmare where, upon arriving in Singapore, her documents are confiscated and her right to freedom obliterated, before being forced to perform sexual acts in her new place of employ.
An opposing view on the subject is on offer too, when the perspective of a sex tourist in Thailand is shared: ‘The women are different here. They’re available. How do I know she’s being forced?’
The exhibition is central to a campaign organized by Singapore-based EmancipAsia, a small non-profit organisation that aims to combat human trafficking by raising awareness, advocating change and empowering individuals, communities and businesses to take action.
In another true tale, a young Burmese migrant is sold to the captain of a fishing boat bound directly for months at sea.
Founded in March this year, EmancipAsia’s interpretation of human trafficking speaks candidly to the local community through a number of different events currently being held in an effort to raise awareness of the prevalent issues here in Singapore.
It’s not surprising that mainstream society, globally, has an emotional aversion to recognising the very real issue of modern day slavery. However, ignoring this crime against humanity is deplorable. According to an international NGO called Free the Slaves, human trafficking is more prevalent in society now than it has ever been and Asia is host to the highest number of victims.
Chernush recognises the devastation of human trafficking globally from her own personal encounters with victims. She was invited to document human trafficking cases in an expedition across Asia and Eastern Europe in 2004. Her images later became an integral part of a report on human trafficking for the US Congress. What started as an assignment has become a passion as Chernush exhibits her photos across the world.
‘I’m enamored by that idea – so egalitarian, reaching people who are not necessarily aware of the problem,’ Chernush tells the CNN Freedom Project. ‘It’s not the anti-trafficking crowd, not the gallery-going crowd, it’s everyday people.’
“Almost every country is involved in human trafficking, either as a source or destination country or both,” adds EmancipAsia founder Sylvia Lee in an interview with Salt Online. “Human trafficking happens in rich and poor countries, developed and developing countries. It is only a matter of scale. Any country which employs high volumes of foreign workers is an attractive destination for human trafficking.”
In addition to Bought and Sold, EmancipAsia’s human trafficking campaign includes a film forum and a symposium, in conjunction with the National University of Singapore, on solutions and preventative measures to target modern-day slavery.
Bought and Sold – Voices of Human Trafficking is on exhibit until 6 September, in front of the Mandarin Gallery on Orchard Road. From 7 – 21 September, you can view the exhibit at NUS University Town. Admission is free.
This article was edited by Rob Teo.
- Stop Human Trafficking– ONE (SINGAPORE)