Apathy; a feeling of disinterest, of not being interested in something.
Apathy; what I felt (or didn’t feel) toward human trafficking until my HAART experience.
‘The good inside of all of us is wrapped in a layer of apathy, and we forget how much potential we have within us, in each and every one of us, to change the world for the better for ourselves and our children, and thus to bring about oneness.’
I learned about the HAART A2ES exhibition last year (2016) via social media; more specifically, from one of my friend’s (the very talented Rehema Baya’s) social media pages’. The images of the photographs she put up were the entries she submitted for the HAART A2ES 2016 exhibition. I absentmindedly clicked on these images (they were two) for a better view. Staring at my screen looking at them, my mind registered suffering, oppression, helplessness. I was sad for a minute, and the next I admired her mastery of the camera, and the next I pressed the ‘back’ button. That was it. My thoughts then went on to more ‘important’ things like Nairobi traffic, cars growing on roads, and that deadline I had coming up. Why? Well, I could drum up some amazingly believable PR explanation on how I didn’t inquire further because A or B, heck even C and D; or I could tell you the stark truth. I didn’t care because it didn’t affect me. The end.
Then as if by fate, sometime in April this year, my mom stumbled into my room to show me a video. I thought it would be the funny kind, the kind you forward to anyone and everyone who would care to waste bundles on, so I happily took her phone. But I wasn’t prepared to watch those next 40 seconds.
It was a video of a young girl, barely sixteen, she looked South American. She was barely clothed in very revealing clad, visibly cold, seated on dusty earth and surrounded by four or five men. Her hands were tied behind her back. The person holding the camera was also a man. He spoke in a language I didn’t understand, but from his tone, I knew he spoke nothing good. The men laughed at her, they jeered, and suddenly, out of nowhere, one begun to hit her head repeatedly with an object, sending this girl into convulsions as they watched and laughed.
I don’t mean to be graphic, but again, I do, because censoring it to make you comfortable would be to enable your apathy, your disinterest. When I got the call for Artists to participate in this year’s HAART A2ES exhibition (via text), I hesitated. Surely, what did I know about Human Trafficking? How would I translate what I didn’t know into a piece of work? Why should I put in effort in trying to understand something that didn’t directly affect me? But going back to that video, and what I saw, it only seemed fair to at least try and research about the trafficking situation here.
Feeling thoroughly unsure of myself, the first thing I typed in the Search Bar was ‘human trafficking in Kenya’. The first result that came up was a report of children in refugee camps in Kenya being sold as slaves for sex and labour. This was according to information gathered by a US Department of State Report. The second result that popped up was HAART and its efforts to create awareness and act on human trafficking in Kenya.
Gaining momentum, the second thing I typed in was: ‘Stories of survivors of human trafficking’. Again, HAART came up: articles of stories written by Phyllis Mburu and Sophie Otiende.
From these searches and from what I read, it seemed to me that little knowledge seemed to be out there on the government’s dealing with trafficking in Kenya. From troops being deployed to refugee camps rampant with trafficking without any anti-trafficking training to articles reporting the government distancing itself from Kenyans languishing in Saudi Arabian jails in 2015, saying they had only themselves to blame. So the last thing I typed in was ‘Laws on Human Trafficking in Kenya’. Who has the power to stop it, why aren’t they doing anything?
But the laws criminalizing trafficking are there, in theory.
And I sort of got to see why HAART begun this initiative, like it was fuelled by the sentiment: “If no one will speak, WE will.” This was how I came to realize that waiting for the government to take an actual stance, a formidable one, minus the hogwash that is ‘diplomatic relations with fellow states’ would be as good as chancing on talking squid. Let’s be honest, this is the very same government that as recently as this year viewed the amnesty being granted to Kenyans ‘illegally’ in (read trafficked into) Saudi as an olive Branch being extended by Saudi Arabian Government. As if these Kenyans chose the unfortunate circumstances they found themselves in. The irony is tangible.
Because of this, I thought I’d take a chance on fate and participate in the 2017 Edition of HAART’s A2ES exhibition.
Taking part in it this year, seeing the works submitted by fellow artists gave me a sense of hope, that artists were making a conscious decision to understand the intricacies of trafficking; that they interpreted the topic, shared it amongst themselves, discussed it, and interpreted it how best they could.
For this awareness, I laud the HAART foundation, simply because through these exhibitions year after year, the world now has 30 or more less disinterested people, lessened apathy. From the organizers, to the participants, to those who will view the works presented, awareness will have been furthered and the conversation will gain momentum.
As we reach the midpoint of 2017 the month of July is nearly upon us. That means the annual Arts to End Slavery Exhibition will be taking place once again. The event will commence on July 3rd at 6.00pm until July 14th, 2017. The venue has been confirmed as KOBO Trust, 523 Riara Road in Nairobi.
Last year was an outstanding success for all involved in the exhibition. Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) has successfully implemented the project for the last two years with the goal of bringing awareness to the issue of human trafficking in Kenya and eradicating the issue throughout Kenya and more broadly, East Africa. According to International Organization for Migration (IOM) more than 20,000 victims are trafficked through Kenya annually from neighboring countries including Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan.
the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
The projects main goal is to bring together a number of local professional artists, photographers, musicians, poets who will shed light on the issue of human trafficking using their own medium. The exhibition is essentially a blank canvass where these artists can get the message across to the public and consequently bring awareness to trafficking of persons.
This exhibition is a very creative way for artists to engage the attention of people who otherwise would not be aware of the issue in Kenya. One of last years participants – Rehema Baya stated, “I enjoyed the arts to end slavery exhibition last year. It was really amazing to see my work on the wall and appreciated in the way that it was. The exhibition brought about a great discussion about human trafficking especially among the artists.”
People who attend the exhibition can expect to see the following artists: Paul Otieno Abwao, Rehema Baya, Lia Beharne, Samuel Githui, Immaulate Juma, Abdul Kipruto, Leevans Linyerera, Cephas Mutua, Lincoln Mwangi, Peteros Ndunde, Naitiemu Nyanjom, Brian Omolo, Joan Otieno, Nicole Riziki, Lemek Tompoika and Gemini Vaghela.
If you would like to know more about Arts to End Slavery please contact HAART Kenya on +254 (0) 738 506 264 or Email: email@example.com. The public is very much encouraged to attend the event and everybody at HAART would be very much appreciative of your support in the fight against human trafficking. Donations can also be made to help HAART continue its great work against modern-day slavery.
It would be great if you could share this event to friends and family. Please do so by clicking below. Thank you!
On July 30th, all roads led to Shifteye Gallery for the opening of the 2016 Arts to End Slavery exhibition and the World Day against Trafficking in Persons celebration. One by one the guests came in as from 6pm. The evening had an exciting programme put together by both HAART and PAWA254 who were the conveners of the event.
The opening remarks were given by Sophie Otiende who then introduced Rose Jepkorir, the curator for the exhibition who explained the theme of the exhibition. This year the title for the exhibition was ‘Telling their Stories’ which was victim stories so the art was intended to speak to the audience from the perspective of the victims of trafficking. Winnie Mutevu from HAART and Miriam Ayoo from PAWA254 then introduced the two organizations.
Rose and Sophie
Throughout the night we had performances from different talented young people. We had an acrobatic dance from a group of boys and girls from Mukuru Slum Development Projects. This performance was greatly applauded. We also had poetry from different Sheddy Poet, Jay poeTree, Rachel Akinyi and Megan. Lastly, we had two song performances from Nairobeez and AfroStyles who had recorded a song for this project.
Some of the key invited guests graced the stage with short remarks. Noela Barasa from UNODC introduced the World Day against Trafficking in Persons and the theme of this year since UNODC is the flag bearer for this day. Caroline Njuki, the Regional Migration Coordinator form IGAD also spoke about trafficking from a regional perspective and gave a passionate appeal for more collaboration. The director of HAART, Radoslaw Malinowski was also not left behind, he explained what human trafficking is and of HAARTs stand in matters trafficking.
An award called the Survivor’s Choice Award was presented to Brian Omolo who was one of the exhibiting artists. Brian had traveled during the day before, so his brother was at the opening to receive the award on Brian’s behalf. The art had been shown to a group of survivors of trafficking and they choose the art piece that they liked the most, and the survivors chose ‘Lamenting’ by Brian Omolo. This means that the survivor could easily relate to his art piece. The award was presented by Ms. Finali Galaiya who is the current Miss India Worldwide Kenya 2016 and Miss Attitude East Africa 2016 and who in her position has chosen to create awareness about human trafficking.
Ms. Finali with Brian Omolos brother
Lamenting by Brian Omolo
After the performance arts and the speeches, the guests went upstairs to view the art in this year’s A2ES project. The art pieces were beautifully hanged in the art space upstairs and the guests enjoyed viewing them. It was a very successful opening with around 700 guests, many completely new to the concept of human trafficking.
The social media was also buzzing the whole night and the project was trending on Twitter Kenya for 4 hours during the night.
In summary, the opening night was one full of pomp and color. We are grateful for the amazing turn out and the conversations that were stirred up on the day in and around trafficking.
The exhibition is still open Monday to Saturday until August 13th and entry is free.
Art reflects the conditions of its time not through the explicit and deliberate use of new techniques or technologies, or through relevant subject matter, but at a deeper level, through transformations in practice that may as well be unconscious as far as the artists themselves are concerned.
Christiane Paul, Curating New Media
There is a 1980s film starred by Richard Prior (or maybe it isn’t him at all!) in which a dozen or so members of an African tribe (this term was not yet banned from cultural and artistic discourses) are captured by Arab slave traders and are transported north on foot (their captors most times ride daintily on camels) over the Sahara desert to be sold in Saudi Arabia. After a very frightful and bloody beginning, the film rides on the well worn path of foiled escapes, repeated gang rape of the beautiful girl, sodomy of the young boys, starvation, and vultures on the prawl-a constantly reminding everyone not to get injured and not to dare play dead. Aged twenty, this film became for me almost the truth about modern slavery.
Then in the last decade or so thousands of young men and women began being airlifted legally to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to work as domestic servants in private homes, cleaning and service staff in hotels and manual labour in factories-in many cases for a fraction of what workers from other regions were earning. It is a well known fact that real physical work in the gulf countries is done not by the citizens or expatriates from rich countries but by an army of “third –country nationals”. In 2006, a Pentagon investigation found that T.C.N.s are often subjected to abuses, “some of them considered widespread.” In addition to “substantial living conditions” and illegal confiscation of their passports, many workers have had to deal with “deceptive” hiring practices. T.C.N.’s seeking employment have been forced to pay large “recruitment fees” which are deducted from their future earnings. The effect is to reduce them to a state of “involuntary servitude” (The People vs. the Profiteers, David Rose, Vanity Fair, November 2007). Then cases of mistreatment of several girls in private homes- many times it was criminal assault otherwise why would they bring it the pages of our main newspapers and our TV screens? There have been cases of young female domestic workers being thrown off balconies to their deaths by irate employers or simply jumping to ‘freedom’ to escape torture.
The thousands that opt to migrate to Europe in search of greener pasture do not fare better. Many end up trapped in the sex and drugs trade. Having arrived there by legal means and overstayed, they have no recourse to the law and they for years work and live in slave-like conditions.
There is, too, an ubiquitous cadre of slaves that don’t travel that far. Every year a small army of young uneducated boys and girls leave their rural homes and education opportunities for the promise of a job in Kenyan towns and cities. Even if working for close relatives they work long hours for little or no pay; are denied education and other basic human rights; and are never are allowed visitation rights to kin and family. In the poorer areas of cities, it is common to find young girls aged ten to sixteen doing domestic chores for the whole family all day or selling illegal alcohol (chang’aa) in congested domestic surroundings. They also have to contend with verbal as well as physical and sexual abuse. It is all too easy for artists and their support systems to not recognize the plight of these ‘little people’ that are denied basic human rights right under our noses in our homes and the homes of friends and acquaintances.
What can the artists do in such a desperate situation? For sure art cannot end slavery. The few illustrations above have revealed that slavery is a monster that evolves constantly in a multitude of ways. Well meaning international and local organizations, human rights researchers and think tanks are having to spending all their time and resources proving that this versatile phenomena is forever regenerating.
Toni Morrison once argued in an interview that the African subjects that experienced capture, theft, abduction, mutilation, and slavery were the first moderns. They underwent real conditions of existential homelessness, alienation, dislocation, and dehumanization that philosophers like Nietzsche would later define as quintessentially modern. Instead of civilizing African subjects, the forced dislocation and commodification that constituted the Middle Passage meant that modernity was rendered forever suspect. Ongoing disputes over reparation indicate that these traumas continue to shape the contemporary era. It is never a matter of forgetting what it took so long to remember. Rather, the vigilance that is necessary to indict imperial modernity must be extended into the field of the future.
Such vigilance is the artists’ role in ending modern slavery.
The Arts to End Slavery- train has continued its journey! We had our second and third build up events for the A2ES in the Technical University of Kenya and at the Light Academy in Karen.
We were invited to participate at the Technical University for their second annual clubs and associations exhibition on the 23rd or June where different institutions and companies were invited to tell the participants about their activities for the whole day. The A2ES team was there with our fliers, our cool T-shirts and “a cage” for selfies. We used the time to share information on human trafficking and told the students how they could get involved in the fight against this crime. We also advertised our main event of this years A2ES, the art exhibition that launches at ShiftEye Gallery on the 30th or July (mark it to your calendars!). The students could also leave messages and signatures on our chalkboard, which ended up being a lovely piece of colorful messages. We closed shop at 4:00pm after our table was almost clear of the materials!
The second event was at a school called Light Academy in Karen where we spent two hours with some students on the 28th of June. We had boys from classes 9 and 10, most of them coming from their art classes. We had a short session with them on what human trafficking is and from the discussion we could quickly notice that they didn’t know much about the crime (examples were mainly seen and heard from TV). In this event we had decided to use #TheRedSandProject. The projects aim is to raise awareness about human trafficking by filling the cracks on the pavement with red sand for people to pay more attention to the vulnerable and easily victimized groups around them that often go unseen just as the cracks on the pavement. While the boys were filling the cracks and making some paintings with the sand, we discussed minorities in Kenya and how the victims of trafficking often come from these groups. The red sand was a great success do some of the boys even got so excited that they applied the sand on their faces and carried some sand home with them! We also had the selfie cage here and some selfies were taken to show to friends and family. The boys agreed to spread our message and keep in mind all that was learned.
Now the A2ES team will put all of its efforts on arranging the exhibition end of this month so that it will be a great success! See you all there!
When: 30th of July (The World Day against Trafficking inPersons) at 6pm
Arts to End Slavery 2016 has now officially launched! On the 28th of May we had a community event at Mathare, an informal settlement. The weeks leading to the event were busy and even the morning of the event, we had an interview at Ghetto Radio and Korogocho where we were able to talk about human trafficking and A2ES.
The event started at 12pm and lasted until 4pm. We had rented a field for our use and set up tents to draw people in. We had around 20 volunteers walking around Mathare inviting people to attend, handing out pamphlets about human trafficking and talking to people about the issue.
Around one o’clock we walked to a nearby public bathroom that is by a bridge crossing over Mathare River. There we had two amazing graffiti artists, Smoki and Bebeto, ready to paint a mural to raise awareness about human trafficking even when we’re gone. The mural included a definition of human trafficking in Sheng and a depiction of modern day slavery. It looked amazing!
At two o’clock the party started at the field! We had singers and rappers from Mathare performing as well as a duo from Kakuma refugee camp and a Kenyan band that sang beautiful acapella. We also had three amazing artists doing spoken word. In between the performances we had an energetic MC that on top of hyping up the crowd, talked about human trafficking and what to do if someone thought they or someone they knew were being trafficked. We also had a Kenyan painter, Onyis Martin, painting live and this drew many curious eyes to see the process.
The biggest hit, however,was without a doubt the face painting for children. As soon as the first child got pink and blue painted on their cute little cheeks, a line of nearly a hundred children emerged in just few minutes. When you added juice and cookies to that mix, the children’s excitements could have not been any higher!
All in all the day went great and all expectations were met. At 4pm you could see happy but tired children wander back to their homes with big smiles and smudged face paints on their faces. Following the Mathare residents example, the whole A2ES team headed home tired but above all happy for how well everything had gone. Our expectations were to reach at least 500 people and this estimations was met. All in all, a great success and we can’t wait to move to the next steps of A2ES!