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Trafficked Identities Exhibition

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FLEFF – GAATW  online exhibition 2011

Dale Hudson and Sharon Lin Tay



The global economy, predicated on the free movement of goods and capital, also sustains particular patterns in the mobilisation of people. 

While capital travels unhindered digitally across borders and goods pass through free trade zones, the movement of people is a more complicated affair.

Legal, illegal, voluntary, or forced mobilisations of people for both formal and informal sectors of the global economy present a complex picture of labour practices and relations. Human trafficking, as a worldwide phenomenon propped up by the demands of the global economy, opens up questions of human rights, gender relations, sexualities, labour issues, and population flows due to political exigencies and economic necessities.

To ensure their effectiveness, media campaigns against trafficking often offer blatant warnings about the dangers of getting deceived by, and falling victim to, traffickers. 

More often than not, anti-trafficking campaigns use imagery that glamourises victimisation, in the process leaving unchallenged the structural barriers to the long-term effectiveness of these very campaigns, such as racial discrimination and restrictive migration policies. Moreover, the fetishism of victims in anti-trafficking campaigns may often be seen in their focus on young female victims and the brutal exploitation of their sexuality, thereby transferring the discourse from that of geopolitics, human rights, and commoditised sexual labour to that of the trafficked, exploited, sexually squalid, and abused female body. 

Such reduction of the millions of trafficked and exploited persons, amongst them men, women, and children, into a concentration on an abstract female body that is shackled and abused does not further a politically viable anti-trafficking discourse. 

Instead, such reductionism perpetuates stereotypes of women’s bodies as sexualised commodities that could continue to shape the view, and subsequent treatment, of women in general by authorities and policy makers as such.


This Trafficked Identities exhibition was conceptualised by the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival (FLEFF) and the Global Alliance Against the Traffic of Women (GAATW) as a space in which we may  consider strategies to circumvent reductionistic representations of human trafficking. 

The exhibition aims to explore the ways in which activist campaigns against human trafficking may avoid glamourising the victimisation of trafficked persons and instead use digital media as a platform to promote the recognition of trafficked persons’ rights, strengths and power. 

We consider the question of how campaigns may call attention to gross exploitation while highlighting victims’ resilience and agency. We ask how may the bodies that are smuggled past, or that covertly pass, political checkpoints be represented in ways that educate about the intersection of geopolitical complexities with labour, whether sexual, manual, domestic, forced, or voluntary.


Along with representatives from GAATW acting as the exhibition jurors, we are pleased to present four pieces of work that explore the theme of Trafficked Identities and that go some way to contributing to a politically viable anti-trafficking discourse.

Xuan Chen’s animated video, Out, was selected for the prize. 

Giving the impression of flows of people and labour, Out captures the geopolitics and structural context that anti-trafficking organisations such as GAATW highlight in their work. Its sophisticated animation conveys the harshness of life as a Chinese migrant labourer, using themes and symbolisms that facilitate dialogue about human trafficking, labour issues, and the possibility of activating changes in the migrant worker’s circumstances.


The exhibition also features Stephanie Rothenberg, Jeff Crouse, and Michael Schieben’s Laborers of Love, Myriam Thyes’s Magnify Malta, and Paolo Unger Dvorchik’s Modern Slavery.


Using a crowd sourcing application and mash-ups, Laborers of Love explores the confluence of desires, fantasies, and the economic principles of supply and demand in the buying and selling of sex. Foregrounding the transnational nature of sex work, Laborers of Love is a tongue-in-cheek attempt at outsourcing prostitution via a digital platform that provides endless configurations of bodies and fantasies that cater to one’s sexual desires — and payable for by credit card.


Magnify Malta is a multi-platformed art project that explores the implications of globalisation for the state of Malta, ‘a small place’ (to borrow Jamaica Kincaid’s concept) in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Within close proximity to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Malta experiences first hand the transnational patterns that mobilise people as dictated by the ebb and flow of geopolitics. Examining such human traffic through its borders, Magnify Malta ponders the implications of migration for Maltese culture, society, and labour market.


A film about indentured labour, Modern Slavery highlights the different types of trafficking and slavery via a series of interviews with both victims and activists. Focussing on the resilience of victims, their assessments of their situations while victimised, and what lies ahead after their rescue, Modern Slavery extends its analysis beyond the fetishism and glamourising of trafficked victims.


Collectively, the Trafficked Identities exhibition presents ideas and arguments that are informative and thought provoking. We hope that some of these works challenge some of your assumptions about trafficking and prompt you to learn more and to act.