Kay Chernush / Founder & Artistic Director / ArtWorks for Freedom


Your work to inspire global and local action against modern slavery goes back many years. Tell us what ignited you to launch ArtsWorks for Freedom? 

It was the people I encountered in 2005 on assignment from the U.S. Dept of State.  In particular the face and the story of a Nepalese woman searching for her 13-year-old daughter who had been lured away from her village and lost forever in a Mumbai brothel. This was my first awareness of human trafficking and I was appalled to learn that slavery still exists in the 21st century!   I started ArtWorks for Freedom because I want the whole world to know of the misery and horrors suffered by modern-day slaves and the indomitable spirit of those who have survived and rebuilt their lives. I want people to take action to end the heinous practices that keep Bangladeshi women locked in factories that collapse on them, that keep families locked in generational debt, that allow children to be kidnapped and maimed and set out to beg.

The aim of your organization is to amplify the voices of survivors to help them find dignity, freedom, and justice. What type of campaigns and programs are you planning to launch, this year, to support this goal? 

We believe awareness is the critical first step in the prevention of trafficking, enabling people to learn the signs and empathize with the victims.  Only with an informed understanding of the problem can we have a sound policy, wise allocation of resources and full renewal of survivors. Our vision is to see individuals and communities energized and equipped to fight trafficking using their unique abilities and talents in imaginative ways.

We have just completed a three-week campaign in Easton, MD which ran from Sep 8 – Oct 1, with an art exhibit by local artists, as well as, drawings by Prum Vannak, the Bought & Sold photographic installation by me, and fibre art by Brikena Boci. Also, three film screenings and panel discussions. Our campaign in the DC metro area, ACTION DC!  has launched. Pls, see website for full details. www.artworksforfreedom.org.

The idea behind our approach is that it takes a lot more than one gallery exhibit, or one film screening, or one symposium, to illuminate the problem and get people to really focus on it. By mounting multi-faceted campaigns we provide different entry points into this dark subject, keeping a hot light focused on the crime, challenging indifference and inspiring people to take their own creative actions to eradicate it.

We believe art has a storytelling power that can capture the emotional complexities of a difficult social issue like human trafficking.  Art also allows us to go deeper in our understanding of why modern slavery takes place and how we can stop it.


Who are the human rights groups, civic, governmental, and private organizations you are partnering with to raise awareness of modern slavery?

See https://artworksforfreedom-dc.org/sponsors/

Also, see www.artworksforfreedom.org/partners

The power of art is a catalyst for change. Who are the artists and activists represented in your projects? 

Participating artists:

•     Xyza Cruz Bacani, photographer

•     Hetty Baiz, contributing artist, painter & mixed media

•     Holly Bass, contributing artist, Choreographer & Performance Artist

•     Nina Berman, documentary photographer, associate professor at Columbia University Graduate     School of Journalism

•     Brikena Boci, contributing artist, fiber art

•     Kay Chernush, photographer

•     Alonzo Davis, artist, and community activist

•     Helen Frederick, artist, Emeritus Professor at George Mason University, founder of Pyramid        Atlantic

•     Molly Gochman, contributing artist, conceptual artist

•      Judy Kirpich, contributing artist & award winning textile artist (Quilts)

•      Paul Miller, aka D.J. Spooky, contributing artist, digital composer, video and mixage artist and writer

•     Christopher K. Morgan, contributing Artist, choreographer & dancer

•     Larry C. Price,  Pulitzer prize-winning photographer

•    Erica Rebollar, choreographer & dancer

•     Mary Ann Schindler, sculptor, and installation artist

•     Prum Vannak, farmer, painter & trafficking survivor

•     Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig, choreographers and dancers

•     Ann Sofi Siden, video and mixed media

•     17 DC artists and  poets in Call & Response, including:

Tim Davis, Carol Beane Elise Wiarda, Oletha DeVane, Efia Dalili, Jeremy Kunkel, Danielle Badra, Susan Main, Elizabeth Halper, Steve Skowron, Rod Smith, Helen Zughaib, Zein El-Amine, Jessica Kallista, Jennifer Atkinson, JulieWills, Amaranth Borsuk, Schroeder Cherry, Thomas Estler, Cheryl Edwards, Fred Joiner, Margot Neuhaus,  Anne Dykers, Shanti Norris, Sarah Browning, Nehemiah Dixon III,  Tsedaye Makonnen, Carien Quiroga, Holly Mason, Elizabeth Board, Lisa Short, Martin Swift, Mel Nichols.

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