Opening Reception for Faces Behind Atrocity: Engine
Feb 1, 2019 | By: Capture Humanity
“January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month. Understanding human trafficking is the first step to combating it. Human trafficking is the woman who came to work in the home of a diplomat forced to work for no pay, the migrant worker trapped in debt, and the women forced into the sex industry, coerced by her boyfriend.”
These were the words of documentary photographer Matilde Simas as she delivered a powerful message, addressing a daunting reality that is frequently conveniently ignored.
Human trafficking is globally pervasive, economically motivated, and emotionally overwhelming. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are nearly 40 million victims worldwide, more than half of whom are women and girls. It’s a horrific industry that pulls in about $150 billion every year – and it isn’t just an issue for developing countries. Polaris, a national nonprofit fighting trafficking and slavery, estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of victims in the United States.
Mary Tibbets, Just Love Worldwide Survivor lead, at the opening reception of Faces Behind Atrocity at the Engine on Saturday Jan. 12, 2019.
The exhibition opening provided the perfect opportunity to raise awareness about an issue which is all too real. The aim of the evening was to inform individuals and provoke discussions about human trafficking through artistic expression. Simas believes art is an exceptional tool to create awareness about social injustice like human trafficking. “Photography that documents human trafficking puts a human face on the problem and can influence people in a way that numbers or academic discussion cannot. A picture immediately makes you see the vulnerability in the photograph which will do a lot more to mobilize people, stirring up outrage and action. Even with the use of masks you see pain and trauma in the subjects’ eyes, as well as the hope and strength,” said Simas.
The artwork, Faces Behind Atrocity, and the documentary film screening, HAART Kenya, evoked an emotional response from those in attendance, which was exactly the intention. Images on display photographed by Simas of trafficked survivors told stories of false hope and deception.
The Faces Behind Atrocity is a “healing through art” portrait documentary series which aims to advocate for and alongside the survivors, amplifying their voices. The project has roots in Nairobi, where local nonprofit HAART Kenya works within national borders to rescue and rehabilitate human trafficking survivors. The original series involved seven young women of four different nationalities, ranging in age from 13 to 16 years old. They were rescued from the horrors of the trafficking world and are in various stages of the healing process. Masked to protect their identities, the survivors allowed Simas to capture a visual representation of their resilience, beauty, and strength, while also providing a written account of how they were trafficked and the atrocities they faced.
Matilde Simas with Just Love Worldwide survivor lead, Cary Stuart at the opening reception of Faces Behind Atrocity at the Engine on Saturday Jan. 12, 2019.
The HAART KENYA film shown is a visually moving 13-minute documentary film is emotionally engaging and educational. The documentary follows two women who were victims of human trafficking, an includes interviews from the professionals at HAART Kenya. Partnering with documentary photographer Matilde Simas, the film goes beyond documenting grief-stricken survival stories and demonstrates the support HAART KENYA can provide survivors. This film is filled with hope and is bright with the pride and resilience of the human spirit. The film that fills your heart with anguish, but also with happiness. HAART KENYA has a beautiful message- that your past does not have to define you or your future. HAART Kenya is a documentary not to miss.
Simas explained why the exhibit in Maine that features photos of people from Kenya also shines a spotlight on the issue of human trafficking within the United States. “It is important to localize the conversation around trafficking. By incorporating human trafficking stories from survivors in Maine, my audience can see that this global issue is also a local issue. I want people to understand human trafficking isn’t just an issue for developing countries.”
The exhibition in Maine is a result of growing concerned community. Behind Maine’s beautiful rocky coastline, seafood shacks, and vacation homes lies a sinister secret. The Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault reports that sex trafficking operations capture an estimated 200 to 300 victims every year. The state has been slow to respond to the growing problem, and while new legislation has laid down harsher penalties for those who are convicted, the state has much room for improvement when it comes to training and victim assistance. Survivors emerging from the hold of commercial sex trafficking and sexual exploitation – both in Maine and beyond – face a multitude of complex challenges, including PTSD, dissociation, addiction, and mental illness.
Maine survivors of sex trafficking featured as part of the portrait documentary series, Faces Behind Atrocity by photographer Matilde Simas.
To this end, she continues to add to her documentary project, Faces Behind Atrocity, by working with United States-based human trafficking organization Just Love Worldwide located in Westbrook, Maine, and Mentari, an organization in New York City. One such story follows American survivor Cary Stuart’s reintegration into society. Cary grew up in Portland Maine, after an abusive childhood spent in and out of youth centers. At the age of 19, she was lured into the life of sex trafficking on the false promises of love and security. Cary spent the next 11 years isolated, beaten, drugged, and moved between states, forced to sell herself night after night to meet the quotas set by her pimps. Thanks to the support of organizations like Just Love, Hope Rising, and the FBI Special Victims she escaped ‘the life’ and has new identity – as a mother, a fiancée, a survivor, and an advocate.
Mary Tibbets, Chief Survivor Lead for Just Love Worldwide, Matilde Simas, Cary Stuart Survivor Lead for Just Love World Wide and Nancy Gallinaro, Founder and Executive Director of Just Love Worldwide at the Opening Reception of "Faces Behind Atrocity."
To round up the evening Mary Tibbets, Chief Survivor Lead for Just Love Worldwide, shared her personal trafficking testimony and discussed why and how trafficking occurs – the main reason being a lack of economically viable options.
“Just Love Worldwide is beyond excited to participate with Matilde in using art to educate people of the atrocities of human trafficking. You can expect to see more of her great work here in Maine in the coming months!” says Nancy Gallinaro, Founder and Executive Director of Just Love Worldwide.
In conclusion, Simas’s program powerfully achieved its aim. The opening reception for Faces Behind Atrocity delivered a strong message in a creative way. Simas’ hope is that visitors of the exhibit soak in the experience of these survivors and are moved to have conversations with people around them and keep bringing the problem to light. The Faces Behind Atrocity project strives to provide a forum for healing through art, and educate and provoke action, such as volunteering or donating to organizations working with human trafficking survivors.
Matilde Simas and Linda Hirsh at the opening reception of Faces Behind Atrocity at the Engine on Saturday Jan. 12, 2019.
Matilde Simas and Engine Director, Tammy Ackerman at the opening reception of Faces Behind Atrocity at the Engine on Saturday Jan. 12, 2019.
ENGINE, located in downtown Biddeford, Maine, is a nonprofit arts organization and is located at 128 Main street. The exhibition will run through Feb. 16 and gallery hours are 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.
Matilde Simas is an award-winning American documentary photographer. Her work focuses heavily on the beauty of the human spirit and aims to show the dignity of every subject. Matilde’s travels have brought her around the world, where she examines the theme of human rights and attempts to capture – with the utmost respect and admiration – the resilience of human beings.
Passionate about using photography as a medium for storytelling and social change, Matilde continues to learn about how it can support social change groups in demonstrating the impact of their projects. She recently turned her lens to documenting the recovery of trafficking survivors in the United States and has traveled extensively in Indonesia to learn about the impact of palm oil production on our environment. Her storytelling has helped vulnerable children in Namibia attend school, amplified Maasai female voices, and supported human trafficking victims/survivors to name just a few ways she has created tangible change.
Her ongoing documentary portrait series, “Faces Behind Atrocity,” about survivors of labor trafficking, sex trafficking and forced marriage, created for a United Nations World Day Against Trafficking in Persons campaign, has received the coveted Lucie Foundation Social Cause International Photography Award, Tokyo International Foto Award, and a PRIX de La Photographie Paris Award. Simas's fine art prints are part of numerous private and corporate collections, including the African Union and the Kenyan National Archives at UNODC and UN Migration.