ArtWorks for Freedom Artists Alliance — Theresa Knight McFadden

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Each week we are featuring a member of our growing Artists Alliance with whom we have collaborated in the past. By highlighting their art, practice and inspiration, we hope to broaden our audience and enlighten more hearts and minds about the millions upon millions of invisible, marginalized people who are trafficking victims or are at risk of being trafficked. Today, we present Theresa Knight McFadden.

Among a plethora of titles, including professor, wife, mother and friend, McFadden is a creator. Her work has toured the world as part of exhibits throughout the U.S., China and South Korea. Formally trained as a painter, she works in oils on large canvases. She also works in clay and mixed media and it is this combination with which she created “Caged” to portray the atrocity of human trafficking.

McFadden grew up in the Washington D.C. area and in 2011 moved to Cambridge, Maryland with her husband. This is where they purchased a home, established roots and formed a community. It is where McFadden’s creativity flows without interruption. Her studio, being on the same property as the house itself, is beyond a convenience; it calls to her.

“It is a special, sacred place for me and when I enter it, I feel an almost immediate shift away from all my day to day tasks and concerns to a more introspective state that allows me to focus on my art. I try to go to my studio every day (no excuses for bad weather!) even if it is just to clean up or sit and think, read or work in my sketchbook,” says McFadden.

The studio is where the magic happens; a place where the creative mode transcends body and time.

“The process of channeling my ideas, feelings and emotions through the medium I have chosen, becomes almost meditative. I know many artists would tell you they have created a work that later they can hardly remember making and that experience is often true for me too. On my most productive and magical days, the creative process takes over and everything else falls away, even the sensations of hunger or fatigue,” McFadden explains

Prior to the ArtWorks for Freedom Easton MD campaign, McFadden was unaware of the gravity and pervasiveness of human trafficking, locally and globally. Before the inception of “Caged”, she set out to educate herself and was struck and overwhelmed by the reality that came to light through in-depth exploration of the subject she sought an artistic response to.

“I had no idea of the many types of human trafficking and was astounded to learn that it was so widespread and actually going on close to my home. What struck me deeply was the sense of being physically, and arbitrarily trapped at the hands of other humans. In a society where I and most other people move about freely and can advocate for ourselves there was this horrific underworld of human trafficking I was becoming aware of. “Caged” was my response to this awareness.”

McFadden’s illustrative description of “Caged” gives us a glimpse of the strength and fortitude of the people who have bravely lived through this experience. 

“It is a sculpture made of clay, wood and barbed wire, in the shape of a square box. The frame of the box is made of wood and painted white while the sides are white vertical bars made of unglazed clay and pitted as bones might be. The top of the box has barbed wire strung across it. Inside this box are the clay busts of a man and woman, waxed to a soft glow. They are side by side and looking out at the viewer. While most of my work involves high key color, I chose white for this somber piece. White is a symbol of innocence in some cultures and mourning in others — both being represented in this piece — the innocence and mourning of those being trafficked and the mourning of the world that has lost them.” 

She further explains that, “The figures are white to ennoble them and give them dignity in the way of classical busts from antiquity. The barbed wire top lifts off the box. While this was a practical choice since I needed a way to get the busts into their space it is also symbolic of hope that there will be an end to this entrapment through increased awareness of its existence.”

McFadden and seven other local artists were asked by ArtWorks for Freedom to participate in the Easton MD campaign which was presented in partnership with the Artistic Insights Fund of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation. In addition to local artists, the exhibit featured Kay Chernush’s Bought & Sold installation, drawings by trafficking survivor Prum Vannak and murals by aspiring teenage artists in an afterschool program.

Regarding her work with the organization, McFadden says,

Collaborating with ArtWorks has been extremely meaningful to me. Their mission to use art as a tool to educate and enlighten the public and stir them to action against the injustice of human trafficking, and eventually to eradicate it, really resonated with me. I was honored to be asked to use my artistic voice to help raise awareness on the subject. I felt like I was following in the tradition of artists throughout history who have used their art to provoke social change.  Art speaks to the soul in ways other messages often don’t. 

“My hope is that the power of my art and that of other artists can reach people and touch their hearts. Artworks for Freedom is doing wonderful work. I am grateful that they exist and that I have been able to play a small part in helping them carry out their mission of eradicating human trafficking.”

To learn more about Theresa Knight McFadden and her art work, please visit her website.

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