ARTWORKS FOR FREEDOM VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT — AMY SENA

Over the years, ArtWorks for Freedom has been fortunate to work with incredible collaborators. These people have come to us as staff, Contributing Artists, partners in hosting impactful exhibits around the globe, and volunteers. 

All of these forms of collaboration are remarkable, but there is something intrinsically moving about the role a volunteer plays in the movement of an organization. They remind us that our mission is powerful enough to incline one to give of their time and energy to contribute to its momentum, knowing that the sole reward is food for the soul, and that is enough.

ArtWorks has been deeply touched by one such volunteer, Amy Sena, and our thanks goes out to her and the efforts she puts forth to further the reach and impact of the organization. 

Amy attended Hofstra University in New York City, receiving a BA in Religious Studies with a minor in Biochemistry. During her studies she began volunteering as a doula which ultimately led to her becoming one herself, specializing in infant and toddler care and perinatal education. Through her role as a doula, Sena has worked closely with victims of abuse and violence.

“From the beginning of my career, I could see how that trauma and abuse manifested in their bodies. Through exploration and then integration of various aspects of art, religion, and culture into my approach to delivering healthcare as a doula, I began utilizing breath, dance, and music into the care and support I provide.” 

Through her exploration of art and the ways it could be integrated into her doula practice, Sena began to see how it could be used to navigate emotions and trauma for her patients without the pressure of them giving verbal testimonial which is often the default mode of therapy. Essentially, offering art as a form of expression and outlet for people who have experienced abuse, provides them a path to begin processing and ultimately healing, without having to talk about their trauma should they not want to.  

During an internship at a safe home for survivors of human trafficking, Sena became aware of the Human Trafficking Study Group at Harvard Kennedy School and applied. Upon admittance, she met Christina Bain, Board Chair of Artworks for Freedom. Bain, another member of the study group, exposed Sena to ArtWorks for Freedom and introduced her to its Founder and Director, Kay Chernush. Sena was thrilled to see the marriage of two of her passions, combatting human trafficking and the healing power of art, at work in one organization. She knew she had to get involved.

I am passionate about working with ArtWorks for Freedom because of its missions to combat human trafficking by educating the public about it, and making people aware of its presence in every corner of society. There is a place for people to get involved through any creative passion. Art is moving, and it makes people pay attention. ArtWorks demands people pay attention to the crime of human trafficking and the ways they can help combat it in their daily lives. It creates awareness through artistic expression, provides an environment of education for its viewers, and healing for survivors. There is a place for everyone here to learn, to support, and to heal.” 

Sena featured as the uterine reproductive system in The Anatomy Fashion Show, an annual fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network. As a volunteer painter, design assistant and choreographer for the nonprofit, Sena is able to put her passion as a doula, and educator and advocative of reproductive health rights to work. 

Thank you, Amy, for your contribution to moving the mission of ArtWorks forward. We couldn’t do this important work without volunteers such as yourself.

If you are interested in getting involved and becoming a volunteer with ArtWorks, we would love to hear from you. Please email us at info@artworksforfreedom.org


ARTWORKS FOR FREEDOM ARTISTS ALLIANCE — HELEN ZUGHAIB

“The Places They Will Go” © Helen Zughaib

“My work is ultimately about creating empathy. Creating a shared space for introspection and dialogue. I ask the viewer to see through someone else’s eyes, to walk in another’s shoes. To accept the ‘other.’ To reject divisiveness. To promote acceptance and understanding and to reject violence and subjugation of anyone anywhere. To give voice to the voiceless, to heal, to reflect in our shared humanity.”

ArtWorks for Freedom is delighted to spotlight the life and splendid work of artist Helen Zughaib, whose paintings, drawings and prints have such a powerful message to convey to the public. It was our pleasure to feature her work in our 2017 ACTION DC! campaign, in an exhibit entitled Human Trafficking: Reclaiming Freedom, A Call and Responseat the Watergate Gallery. The exhibit was curated by artist and Board member Helen Frederick. 

Zughaib’s work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums in the United States, Europe and Lebanon. Her paintings are included in many private and public collections, including the White House; World Bank; Library of Congress; US Consulate General, Vancouver, Canada; American Embassy in Baghdad; the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan; and the DC Art Bank collection. She recently was awarded a grant from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and is currently included in the new Washingtonia Collection. Zughaib was also invited to be an artist in residence at George Mason University, Virginia, and Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Her paintings have been included in several Art in Embassy exhibitions abroad, including Brunei, Nicaragua, Mauritius, Iraq, Belgium and Lebanon. 

Zughaib was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and spent her childhood mostly in the Middle East and Europe before coming to the United States to study art at Syracuse University. There she earned her BFA from the College of Visual and Performing Arts. She lives and works in Washington, DC as a fulltime artist.

As an Arab American, Zughaib’s hope is for her art to encourage dialogue and bring understanding and acceptance between the people of the Arab world and the West. She calls out for this enhanced mutual understanding so desperately needed in the post 9/11 world we are living in. The two decades following that terrible event include the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recent revolutions and crises in the Arab world resulting from the Arab Spring. One of those crises is the Syrian civil war which has inspired her artistic focus on the massive displacement of people seeking refuge in Europe, the Middle East and America, and the ways in which these vulnerable people are victimized.

“Syrian Migration #16” © Helen Zughaib

While Zughaib’s pieces traditionally consist of painting primarily in gouache and ink on board and canvas, she is also drawn to work with wood, shoes, and cloth in mixed media installations. An example of her poignant work recently on exhibit with ArtWorks is “The Places They Will Go.”

“This piece,” Zughaib explains, “focuses on children who are the most vulnerable of victims in any global crisis involving war and causing people’s displacement. My piece refers to the thousands of young children fleeing for their safety. It was inspired by the Dr. Seuss book Oh the Places You’ll Go.

“The painted shoes serve as symbols of both running away from danger, as well as running towards one’s dreams.

“By using these small children’s shoes painted in bright colors and patterns, I hope to bring the viewer closer to these issues of immigration, victimization, forced evacuation and trauma. Issues that seem so impossibly large and overwhelming for us to grasp. I try to raise awareness of Syrian children being especially vulnerable to forced marriages, commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. 

“Through this piece, I am asking the viewer to place themselves in another’s shoes, almost literally, in hopes of creating empathy and compassion and possibly change.”

Regarding her work with ArtWorks, Zughaib says, “I have been involved with ArtWorks for a few years now with my paintings and installations. It has been an honor to work with them to raise awareness not only for the victims of trafficking in the United States, but also globally. And to focus on the plight of the young children facing the horrific situation of war and displacement which compound their already vulnerable states, making them increasingly vulnerable to trafficking, both sexual and labor.”

The honor is ours, Helen. And in the words of Iranian-American writer Azar Nafisi, “Art is here to make you look through the eyes of another and to discover the other in yourself.” 

ARTWORKS FOR FREEDOM ARTISTS ALLIANCE — MATILDE SIMAS

Matilde Simas’ work as a photographer and visual storyteller, guided by her primary role of humanitarian, has taken her around the globe. Her work’s primary focus is human rights, with the goal being to leverage storytelling to inform, provoke discussion, and ultimately inspire action. As Simas explains,

“I achieve this by public speaking and exhibiting my work in galleries and public spaces.  In 2017, I founded Capture Humanity, an organization whose mission is to increase awareness of human rights issues through visual arts andcomprises of photographers, filmmakers, and writers from multiple countries. Together we work to change attitudes and behaviors toward human trafficking while seeking to engage the public through film, video, and photography, with a special focus on social documentary work.”

“We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to connect with organizations around the world to facilitate our work. We begin by discussing our mutual expectations, and then travel to their location to capture the stories in need of attention. Once we return home, we connect with the media, magazines, and gallery spaces to showcase our work and educate the public.”

Simas’ journey as a humanitarian photographer began following a trip to Namibia as a volunteer. She was tasked with taking pictures of Home of Good Hope, a children’s soup kitchen. The surrounding community consisted of hundreds of children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This project was an epiphany for Simas – the moment she realized the power of photography to be an instrument of social change.  

It was her journey to Myanmar in 2014 however, which was her introduction to the terrors of human trafficking. During the four-week trip, Simas met 196 children living in a nunnery. They had been left there by their parents who entrusted the caretakers to shelter their children from on-going war, and prevent them from falling victim to slavery and forced marriage. 

Upon her return home to Boston, Simas scoured the internet, intent on wrapping her mind around the dark reality of human trafficking – something that could have easily ensnared these children. The U.S. State Department proved to be a vital resource on this search for information.

It was this very research led Simas to Kay Chernush, Founder and Director of ArtWorks for Freedom, who had photographed human trafficking for the US State Department.  

“Her advice to me,” says Simas, “was not to wait for an assignment. ‘If you really want to make a difference just go out, shoot it and share it,’ Advice I still carry with me.  Her words led me to work with HAART, a Nairobi-based nonprofit that works to eradicate human trafficking in East Africa.”  

The dual realizations of the potential power of visual storytelling and the need for greater public awareness of the global horror of human trafficking, encouraged Simas’ recent ground-breaking work. She has focused on people bravely rebuilding their lives after being victimized by the harsh reality of human trafficking. The goal being to show the public what befalls the victim, but more importantly the strength these survivors contain within themselves as they reclaim their lives. Simas expands upon this experience below:

“As a photographer, I’ve born witness to countless heartbreaking stories of human trafficking. I’ve spent the last three years working with more than sixty trafficking survivors in Uganda, Kenya, the Philippines, Tanzania and the US. These people are all finding ways to rebuild and adjust to their new lives. Many of them have never had an opportunity to talk about their experiences, which is a vital and therapeutic outlet my partnership with them provides.” 

“These heroic human beings are the driving force behind my desire to share the inconvenient truth of human trafficking and inspire social change. It’s important that people understand the impact of their decisions on human lives—whether it’s buying goods with harmful supply chains or engaging in the sex trade. Awareness, education, and proposing solutions all contribute to helping eradicate the demand for human trafficking.”

It was this deeply burning need to spread awareness and inspire change that catalyzed Simas’ collaboration with ArtWorks for Freedom as a Contributing Artist with Faces Behind Atrocity currently featured on their website as an online exhibit.

The story behind the creation of Faces Behind Atrocity began in 2017 when Simas traveled to Kenya, Africa to document the recovery and reintegration of survivors of human trafficking. The project was a collaborative effort with HAART.

Though planning the trip took about a year, it was this excess of time that allowed her to build a strong relationship with the team at HAARTrelationship building being an integral part of her process. The bond between her and the people she is working with permits special access to sensitive places and the lives of the people she documents.  HAART introduced her to the survivors she photographed and provided guidance to further her understanding of human trafficking in Kenya.

Simas describes the series by saying:

“Faces Behind Atrocity involves portraits and collected testimonies from seven girls of four different nationalities, ranging in age from 13 to 16. They were rescued from the horrors of the trafficking world and are in various stages of the healing process.  In the portraits each girl wears a colorful mask to hide her identity. As you look closer, however, each portrait reveals deep sorrow and trauma.

“The girls were victims of forced labor, forced marriage, and sex trafficking. They were lured by promises of education, sold outright by family members and forced into domestic servitude or prostitution, or sent away by family as child brides to marry a stranger. Many of the girls were exploited by someone they already knew, such as a relative, neighbor, or friend.

“With the use of masks and the powerful testimonials of the survivors, I hope to raise awareness and encourage people to join the movement in supporting organizations that work to fight human trafficking. In the real world, ‘wearing a mask’ is often a way to hide from one’s true self, however, in this series, the mask represents a place for survivors to heal and reveal their authentic selves.”  

Simas’ process of working with her subjects transcends the need to take their picture to spread awareness of what they have endured. It is a form of healing all its own, one she hopes will help the subject on their way to recovering from their experience. In collaboration with the survivors, it was important to her to provide a forum for healing through art.  

“I want to encourage the survivors to tap into the therapeutic power of photography for their personal benefit, and to aid in their recovery.  Early on in my work it became evident that for some of my subjects, photographing them nurtures their confidence, and for others it gives them a feeling of being worthy and valued. My objective is to move viewers away from seeing these people as something to pity and help them see their courage, honesty, beauty and strength.”

The beauty and poignancy of Faces Behind Atrocity is evident in the recognition it has received. The series won the International Photography Award from the Lucie Foundation, Bronze award at the Tokyo International Award and the PX3 honorable mention. 

It has been showcased internationally and widely exhibited by various UN agencies, and is currently on display at the New Bedford Art Museum in Massachusetts. Click here to view the online exhibit.  

Regarding her collaboration with ArtWorks for Freedom, Simas says, “I am honored to be part of ArtWorks.  The nonprofit is working to raise awareness about human trafficking through the arts, and to be part of a community of artists with the same collective goal is really amazing.”

Simas’ work is tremendous and the best part is, she’s just getting started. Her latest venture is a soon-to-be-released short documentary film, Women Rising.  The film will take a broad look at human trafficking in Maine, through the lens of survivors Selina Deveau and Cary Stuart, and answer questions surrounding how the internet provides traffickers with enormous scope to seek out and groom marginalized individuals.  

Photo of Cary Stuart / Image credit: Matilde Simas

It is ArtWorks’ honor to partner with Simas in our shared goal of raising awareness of human trafficking with the end goal of its elimination.

To quote the incomparable Toni Morrison, “The function of freedom is to free someone else.” 

And if not us – then who?

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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Hannah Stein Hannah Stein is a contributing writer for the ArtWorks for Freedom blog. She is pursuing her master’s degree in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at George Washington University. She is passionate about combatting human trafficking, gender-based violence, and inequality. artworksforfreedom.org

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Hannah Stein Hannah Stein is a contributing writer for the ArtWorks for Freedom blog. She is pursuing her master’s degree in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at George Washington University. She is passionate about combatting human trafficking, gender-based violence, and inequality. artworksforfreedom.org

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