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Art activism exposes human trafficking horror

Deceptively simple, peoplesexploitation, an installation piece by Unisa art student Roxane Wilson, takes the form of an ‘expo stand’ promoting a fictitious company called the International Trafficking Initiative (ITI).

“Because of the strong emotions aroused in any discussion of human trafficking, I am focusing on the business aspect,” says Wilson. “The emphasis of peoplesexploitation is on the absurdity of the situation by suggesting that this industry is the best and most lucrative business to invest in.” And statistics show that human trafficking is big business indeed: globally, the trafficking industry is the third-biggest earner, so to speak, with only the drugs and arms trades having bigger ‘market share’.

Using facts and statistics to reveal the complexity and sophistication of human trafficking, Wilson’s expo stand also features an investors’ handbook, business card and pamphlet for those seeking to invest in sex trafficking. A sales agent (fellow-student Andrea Dalton) is on hand to advise prospective investors on the great opportunities offered by this industry. “In this,” says Wilson, “I subvert and mock the seriousness of the real issue to shock the viewer into awareness.”

Big business: peoplesexploitation reveals the complexity and sophistication of human trafficking.

In preparing peoplesexploitation, Wilson consulted extensively with Prof Carol Allais, a leading authority on human trafficking in South Africa attached to Unisa’s Department of Sociology. Allais’s stance is that in the lucrative trafficking business, people are nothing more than a disposable commodity. This, says Wilson, relates broadly to modern consumer culture, which encourages the view that women can be treated as objects, useful for the purposes of the powerful. “I hope that through peoplesexploitation there will be greater awareness and a better understanding of the widespread problem of human trafficking,” concludes Wilson.

Wilson’s installation forms part of the Unisa Visual Arts Gauteng Graduate Show, which runs until 11 January 2013. The exhibition at the Unisa Space Art Gallery showcases the work of nine students. Each installation has various layers, telling stories about crime, cultures, belief systems, post-war trauma, hoarding, global warming, city decay, social commentary through social networking and infertility.

For more information on the Unisa Space Art Gallery, click here.

*Written by Philip van der Merwe

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