Thursday, January 22, 2015


If one thinks of art only as something beautiful, or something that creates pleasing patterns in paint, or sound, or graceful movements in dance, or a gripping movie, or a song one likes to sing - one might find it hard to imagine art addressing human trafficking.

But there is a long and distinguished history of works of art addressing social problems:  from Picasso’s Guernica addressing the savagery of the fascist war, to Billie Holiday’s performance of “Strange Fruit, addressing the horrors of lynching”, to the movie “Hearts and Minds” that moved many to reconsider the Vietnam War - there is a consistent history of works that address issues just as horrific and important as trafficking.

And beyond the task of making people aware of these problems, and getting them to be conscious of the many complex dimensions to them, there is another aspect to consider.  Art helps people heal, and overcome their problems, it creates empathy – even the empathy to understand what drives people to dehumanize and exploit others, the empathy needed to understand who does harm and why.  In the case of trafficking, it helps get survivors stories out to the world, in ways that protect them from retaliation, and that lets the world know how they see themselves and the situations they have overcome – no matter whether sex trafficking or labor trafficking.

And so, it is not so strange to look for art that plays these roles in relation to the complex set of issues related to labor and sex trafficking.  And sure enough, there are more and more artists turning their attention to this issue.

Discussions are beginning about forming a national organization of artists, art and cultural groups, and community art organizations that want to play a role in ending human trafficking.  Toward that end, I have been collecting references to already existing works in a wide range of artistic media that relate to opposing trafficking and empowering survivors of trafficking – both labor and sex trafficking.  Of course, there are more coming, and we need to keep an eye on crowd-sourced projects looking for funding, local exhibitions, educational programs in schools – there are more and more ways art is getting into the mix.

But for now, just to get started, here are links to several trailers or reviews of films, reviews or websites relation to musicals and operas, reviews or websites with reproductions of photographs, paintings, and other forms of visual art, and reviews of theater productions.  Contact information is included when known.

Here is a portrait of an initial sample (for more examples go to Learn More on the left side of the page):

The Men of Atalissa – documentary 





 I would welcome any suggestions of works to be added to the list, especially in the areas of poetry, fiction, and would also welcome references to articles and reviews about works that relate to human trafficking.  I am a photographer and music composer, and have taught courses on music composition, photography, and art and social change at MSU for several decades.  I am co-director of the MSU Consortium Against Human Trafficking, and am currently working on a number of pieces that incorporates photography and music to address a range of issues connected to human trafficking.  I am also working to support artists, and connect artists, working to stop trafficking.  Please send suggestion to:   Mark Valentine Sullivan (

Mark V. Sullivan is associate professor and director of the computer music studios at the Michigan State University College of Music.

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