With 300 photographs, Exit Art begins to break the silence



Slavery is still an issue of the times

Pull aside the long black curtains and enter Exit Art’s dimly lit gallery, and you’ll confront life-size photographs projected, floor-to-ceiling, on six exhibit walls. Each projection is a rotation of images: of Cambodia, Bangladesh, India, the United States; of South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Macedonia; of Israel, Morocco, Thailand, Burma, Hong Kong, Brazil, Spain and Haiti. Each image contains a glimpse of slavery and human exploitation transpiring in the present. From one end of the room comes an eerie red glow, where a neon sign reads, “Silence.”

The exhibit, forthright in both name and nature, is a project of Exit Art cultural center’s SEA (Social Environmental Aesthetics) exhibition program — which endeavors to foster social change by exhibiting art that delves into current environmental, political and cultural issues. This particular show aims to expose the boundless manifestations and multinational settings of slavery.

“So the selection process was very loose,” explains assistant curator Lauren Rosati.

The show’s curators spent six months researching the work of photojournalists who have documented slavery around the world. Throughout the process, they compiled as many photos as they could find — photos of human trafficking and the sex trade; of exploitation of farm and domestic workers, immigrants and prisoners; of sweatshop, bonded and child labor. “This issue is overwhelming, so we wanted both the quantity of images in the exhibition — and the installation itself — to reflect the nature of the issue. Each projector contains a selection of 50 images, usually from multiple photographers,” Rosati explains.

Regrettably, the impact of individual narratives becomes lost among the overwhelming volume of photos. That said, however, “Contemporary Slavery” stirringly reveals what it calls “one of the dirty secrets of our global economy” — and summons beholders to take action.