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Artwork by Survivors of Human Trafficking Sold in Auction

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People bidding at an auction.| Image by SERCAN ERTÜRK

An artist workshop was sponsored by an international organization called Beauty for Freedom with “Texas roots” and “a mission to empower and teach artistic and other skills to survivors of human trafficking,” according to The Dallas Morning News.    

Beauty for Freedom was established in 2014, and they have helped more than 3,500 survivors. The organization published photography from survivors of human trafficking in two books. They have also held missions in Cambodia, India, Haiti, Ghana, and the Dominican Republic.     

Native Texan Monica Watkins is the co-founder and CEO of Beauty for Freedom. She said, “Our purpose is to use art as a tool to heal, to show these survivors they are amazing at whatever they choose to do in life.”  

Watkins also mentioned, “Through skills and training, we want to shift the narrative from survivors to published and exhibited global artists. For them to change their own personal narratives, what better way to do that than with art and music, photography, fashion, and design?”  

Beauty for Freedom teamed up with Unbound North Texas, Traffick911, and Valiant Hearts. All three of those organizations are North Texas agencies. Their objective was to create an art exhibit from the survivors, but the pandemic halted that idea.     

This past September, in Plano, The Gallery at Legacy West held an “exhibition and sale” show called The Art of Freedom, according to The Dallas Morning News. Beauty for Freedom, Unbound North Texas, Traffick911, and Valiant Hearts were impressed with the show and brought back their idea to create the art exhibit. The Art of Freedom show was created by the couple, Travis McCann and Shannon McAnally.     

In 2019, a survivor who wishes to stay anonymous first joined a workshop for artists at Psychedelic Robot Immersive Art Experience at the Crescent, which is now closed down. Other artists taught her how to paint.   

The Dallas Morning News mentioned that for three months after she was rescued, she still felt trapped. The survivor’s painting titled Freedom is “a vision of a woman fleeing a cage.”  

She spoke about her painting by stating, “I had drawn a woman in a white dress, signifying purity, floating up from a cage. At the bottom of the cage were black-and-white photos of syringes and very unhappy people crying and sad. She was going upwards, headed toward an array of different humans, colorful and smiling and happy.”  

This survivor of human trafficking is in her mid-twenties, and she was involved in prostitution and drugs.

“The coolest part was being able to take my story, take this part of me that had been shut off, the creative part, and turn it back on. When I was in ‘the game’, I was in fight-or-flight mode, with no ability to do anything else. I realized I can take my own ideas and birth something beautiful with them,” she said, speaking of her artwork Freedom.     

The experience of creating her artwork was “very humbling and very grounding,” The Dallas Morning News said.

When she saw her artwork years later, she expressed, “After two years of healing and restoration, it was a very emotional experience when I saw it again. I remember the exact frame of mind and the thoughts I was thinking when I was making this.”    

Shannon McAnally, one of the show’s creators in September, The Art of Freedom, shared, “It’s beautiful to see all this effort and time pay off, and directly affect them and change them in a positive way.”  

Travis McCann added, “Art can be intimidating, especially creating in front of other people,” and continued with, “You’ll see people being very timid at first, and as you’re sitting there creating with them, they become visibly more open and comfortable, escaping in the art they are creating.” Both he and McAnally are artists themselves.     

The couple has Gallery DeFi scheduled to open in the spring of 2022, near Trinity Groves. The Dallas Morning News stated that “among their goals is to provide an immersive art exhibition and gallery space, to partner with local charities, and to continue the art therapy programs with Beauty for Freedom.”    

The human trafficking survivor, through a safe house, went through “an extensive emotional and healing process,” and her case manager has guided her in the “process of reintegration into society,” mentioned The Dallas Morning News about her time after her rescue.     

“I had charges and records, and it was an extremely difficult time reintegrating. I couldn’t get a job, cellphone, or bank account, my credit was so bad. It was hard to clear my name as a functioning human in society. After two years, I have successfully done that. I’ve been empowered by the people around me,” the survivor shared. Recently, she has sold her first painting.     

She now holds a full-time job, is in school going towards an associate’s degree “with a goal of earning a doctorate in psychology,” and helps the organization that saved her by participating in leadership roles.     

According to World Population Review, “Human trafficking is a serious crime and violation of human rights, involving force, coercion, or fraud to exploit a person into slave labor or sexual exploitation.”    

The review states that victims of human trafficking are hesitant to reach out for help due to being fearful of their captors, afraid of law enforcement, and language barriers.

“The United States is ranked as one of the worst countries globally for human trafficking,” said the review.

Every year, around 199,000 incidents of human trafficking take place.   

Texas is rated number ten on the list of states with the highest cases. In 2021, 1,080 human trafficking cases were reported.     

Visit artsy.net and search for “Beauty for Freedom” to see artwork from survivors. It’s an auction and will run until December 5th. The money spent on artwork will go towards Beauty for Freedom, Unbound North Texas, Traffick911, and Valiant Hearts, while also directly supporting the survivors of human trafficking.    

To help and support survivors of human trafficking, visit beautyforfreedom.org.

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