The Buy Any Means exhibit raises awareness about the brutal truths of human trafficking and their surprising relevance in the United States.
Human trafficking is, simply put, the sale of human flesh and blood. Specifically, it is the forcible and/or abusive exploitation of individuals, of which a large portion is some form of sexual prostitution. A common misconception is that modern-day slavery only occurs in third-world countries, thousands of miles away, when in fact slavery is alive and happening all around us. There are an estimated 1,000,000 enslaved in the U.S. alone who need to be identified and rescued. Human trafficking has recently been described as “the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world” by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. In order to counter trafficking, we must first recognize that it is a problem and understand exactly what we are up against. Buy Any Means strives to open the public eye to the urgency of the issue.
The exhibit targets young adults and parents from ages 30-40. Since the average age of sex trafficking victims is 12 years old, it is important to inform children as early as possible. The goal is to give the necessary information and warnings to parents so that they can then convey the dangers of trafficking to their families.
Buy Any Means will be held for periods of 10 weeks at a selection of shopping malls. If there is a vacant retail space, the exhibit will be placed directly into it. If not, Buy Any Means will be installed in the open plaza area of the mall.
The exhibit title refers to a famous quote by Malcolm X, who was a prominent figure in the fight against slavery. "We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
“Buy” plays on the idea that humans are bought and sold as if they are merely products. Slavery dehumanizes its victims to a point where they are only numbered purchases that fuel the $7 billion trafficking industry. This idea of dehumanization inspired the design’s outer barcode walls (acrylic with imprinted graphics), which project lines and serial numbers onto the faces of visitors as they walk through the exhibit. Furthermore, the barcodes create a hide and reveal that lures curious passersby in.
Buy Any Means’ form seems to be simple and geometric at a glance, but upon closer examination, the form begins to break apart into harsh, faceted edges. This metaphorically represents the shattered lives and broken dreams of trafficking victims. Unfortunately, such tragedies are often invisible to the public and victims don’t get the help that they desperately need. However, the shattered pieces fold and come together as one, indicating that there is still hope for rebuilding damaged pasts to make better futures. The faceted wall paneling system demonstrates this, starting with orderly triangles that gradually become unpredictable and chaotic. Selected sections of the paneling system even become dimensional, which further complicates and shatters the pattern. These portray the hidden complexities of trafficking.
The first half of the exhibit is the retail space, where items such as cause bags and t-shirts will be sold, as well as books and dvds centering around human trafficking. Products will be branded with Buy Any Means’ trademark barcodes. Shopping ties in well with the exhibit’s mall location, since visitors are surely willing to spend money. People can support the cause by buying products, donating money, learning about how to identify victims in need of help, and fighting for stronger laws against trafficking.
Past the retail space lies the large faceted form, structurally made up of aluminum tubes which are hidden by sheets of black alucobond. This form interrupts the simple linearity of the acrylic box that surrounds it. On one side the facets wraps over the walls, and on another a floor graphic breaks past the entrance wall. Visitors pass by the retail shelves and find something they did not expect to find. Here they enter the enclosed, darker part of the exhibit. Immediately, there is a sense of unease. First there is a winding, narrowing hallway that displays trafficking facts and statistics. This walk-through introduces human trafficking, focusing primarily on sexual prostitution in the United States. With sharp turns in the hallway, it is impossible to know what is coming up next.
Finally, visitors reach the main feature, the hushed Unheard area. Stilled silhouettes of prostituted women are projected onto frosted acrylic walls. Upon visitors’ touch, the silhouettes are brought to life, beginning to move and whisper the stories of trafficking victims. Visitors are encouraged to press their ears up to the walls to listen to first-hand accounts of the traumatic experiences that are so often untold and unheard. The frosted acrylic is meant to create a contradicting sense of being close yet distant to the silhouette figures on the other side of the wall. The projections create a personal exchange between victim and visitor, while emphasizing how real the abuse is and how real the women are. The last few stories are from survivors who have been rescued from slavery, which gives hope that more will be rescued as well, with the help of supporters of the cause.
The exit goes through the retail space once more, where trafficking experts are available to lead discussion groups or to answer any questions. Visitors will leave with the shocking realities of the slave trade. Buy Any Means will move them to awareness and action.
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