The portraits of 16 women, painted by artists from around the world, stood side by side in the Seven Palms Amphitheater on Tuesday, Oct. 27. Each portrait was accompanied by a description detailing the battles each woman faced while caught in human sex trafficking.
Acting in cooperation, Student Action House, Free the Captives and Center for Student Action (CSA) hosted the event with the help of Freedom 58 Project, a nonprofit organization from Colorado that uses art to dignify former slaves and victims of oppression. Freedom 58 commissions artists from all over the world to paint portraits of those rescued from human trafficking.
While Freedom 58 collaborates with organizations to abolish human trafficking, they are not directly involved with the physical act of saving victims. Rather, Freedom 58’s goal is to make people aware that understanding justice is the primary framework for action against modern-day slavery.
“We don’t go into depth much about [the victims’] past when they were in slavery,” said Alyssa Wilson, Freedom 58’s art director intern. “[It’s] more of ‘Where are they now, what have they overcome?’ It’s encouraging hearing these stories of redemption that we can also see within our own lives.”
At the event, organizers informed attendees about how their contribution could end the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world. Sophomore communication major Raven Macaraeg, vice president of Free the Captives, believes that since slavery is an uncomfortable topic to talk about, having a voice for this current issue is important.
“A lot of people don’t realize that it’s still happening,” Macaraeg said. “I hope that people take away the fact that recognizing the problem is the first step. [The second step is] moving into taking action and hearing other peoples’ stories, and being able to gain knowledge [about human trafficking] so that they can tell other people.”
Josh Holm, senior practical theology major and president of Free the Captives, founded Free the Captives during his freshman year. Holm intended for the event to be a creative way to tell stories about slavery from around the world.
“I grew up as an orphan, so when God took me out of that situation, I knew that He had a plan for my life,” Holm said. “Social justice just gripped my heart. I guess I know what it feels like for some of those kids, and I want to be the change that God has called me to be for this issue.”
Bob Swenson, before becoming one of the founders of Project 58 and the Faces of Freedom Exhibit, recalls being in disbelief when his wife, Libby Swenson, initially told him about the 35 million slaves still being held captive today.
“It just seemed impossible,” he said. “I thought we’d already dealt with slavery.”
Swenson then spent about two years studying Isaiah 58 and reflecting on the 18 promises that God makes, hoping to find a way that he could help get one step closer to ending slavery. With little money, Swenson was unsure how he could help the millions in captivity.
“One of the problems I saw was that no one knew there was trafficking,” Swenson said. “I was thinking, ‘Well, what could we do?’ It is such a hugely scaled problem. I told my wife that the only thing I could think of was a painting to tell the girls’ story.”
Swenson’s art exhibit began with one painting, and has since grown to include more than 150 paintings in their gallery. Currently, Swenson and his team are trying to continue spreading awareness by finding ways to increase the exhibit’s reach.
“This is how God works,” Swenson said. “The problem is so vast that you just give to God what you have, how little it is doesn’t matter. God just multiplies it.”
The event concluded with Swenson’s wife, Libby, as the key speaker.
She emphasized God’s call to action against injustice, no matter how different each student’s walk of life may be, and shared a few stories about her encounters with young women who were victims of human trafficking. Libby informed attendees that 2 million children are sold annually into the sex slave trade, giving slave owners a net profit of $150 billion.
“Today, millions of people around the world are rotting away,” Libby said. “But here is the good news: slavery has been beaten in the past.”
Libby concluded by encouraging students at the event to donate if they felt that God was calling them to do so, because even the smallest contribution makes a difference. At the end of the night, around $300 was raised for the organization from these donations.
To learn more about how you can support or get involved with Freedom 58 visit: www.freedom58project.com/.