Interview with ArtWorks for Freedom founder, Kay Chernush

Kay Chernush is founder and director of DC-based non-profit ArtWorks for Freedom, which strives to expose the evils of human trafficking through the power of art. Photo: Exibition

WASHINGTON, DC, January 11, 2013 -  Kay Chernush is founder and director of DC-based non-profit ArtWorks for Freedom. 

Kay has developed a unique artistic approach to expose the evils of human trafficking through the power of art. Working with anti-trafficking Non Governmental Organizations, she develops close relationships of trust with trafficking survivors, seeking to make visually compelling images that avoid exposing to public stigma or further danger those very people she wishes to help.

I asked Kay some questions about her fabulous art and contributing artists as well as her non-profit ArtWorks for Freedom.

How did ArtWorks for Freedom come into being?

Kay: It started with an assignment for the State Department in 2005 to provide the photography for their annual T.I.P. (Trafficking in Persons) report. I photographed many different aspects of human trafficking – sex exploitation, bonded labor, child labor and sex tourism. I worked in Hong Kong, Thailand, India and Italy, and later I continued shooting in Ghana, Brazil, France and the Netherlands. That first assignment really opened my eyes to this global human rights abuse and I decided I wanted to use my photography to make a difference.

So your path changed and your style of work became much more than taking photographs correct?

Kay: Yes, I changed my approach from documentary photography to working directly with survivors and using their stories to construct images that illustrate something about the actual experience of being enslaved. I feel it’s unnecessary to show anyone’s identity since that doesn’t really tell us anything about the experience of being trafficked and it tends to make the survivors captive to their past. Worse, it tends to feed into society’s judgmental and voyeuristic attitudes. So I developed a non-representational, fairly abstract style using constructed, layered images combined with “audio portraits” that tell the survivor’s story.

How do you feel the art you create helps people to understand human trafficking?

Kay: I believe art is trans-formative, it appeals to the heart and the imagination. It provides a pathway to empathetic connection. People are pulled in by the beauty and ambiguity of the images and I hope  they are touched in a visceral way, changing what they may have thought about human trafficking. I want to change how people think and feel about human trafficking in such a way that inspires them to take action.

Besides you which other artists are a part of ArtWorks?

Kay: We have a wonderful performance artist, a filmmaker, poet, composer/musician, choreographer, painter and storyteller; and we are actively looking for talented, creative people who will use their own particular form of artistic expression to reveal new perspectives and truths about modern slavery

Your artworks have been shown in installations worldwide, in the Netherlands and in Asia to hundreds of thousands of people, what is next for ArtWorks in 2013?

Kay: We are excited to be mounting campus awareness campaigns at five universities here in the U.S. in 2013. We’re working with student anti-trafficking groups who are very receptive to this issue. Our various art works, like my Bought & Sold photographic exhibit, anti-trafficking films and art by survivors will be brought to the campuses to create powerful presentations to engage thousands of students and young people.

I will also be giving photography workshops for teenage survivors of sex trafficking, collaborating with GEMS in New York and Courtney’s House here in the D.C. area. Our program is designed to empower these young people and enable them to discover new ways of “seeing,” of understanding themselves and the possibilities around them.

Lastly, what would you tell people who want to make a difference in the war against human trafficking?

Kay: The first step is be informed, to learn about what’s going on. From there you can learn about the many different actions you can take to help fight modern slavery. Everyone can contribute whatever skills they have. Millions of small acts of imagination and changed behaviors can shift the equation. We can end this horrific global tragedy, which is one of the biggest human rights issue of our time. This is the 21st century.  It is simply unacceptable that slavery not only exists but that it is so pervasive. My vision is of a world where no human being is the property of another.

Thank you so much Kay. is a local non-profit that is making a real difference here and worldwide, please visit their website.





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Barbara Amaya

As a survivor of human trafficking Barbara Amaya speaks and writes from her experiences as a trafficked child. She has been published in varied media like Yahoo Voices! More magazine and her story of overcoming adversity has been featured on Fox News, Channel 4, Examiner, Animal New York, Washington Times and more.

She has a book in progress, A Girl’s Guide to Survival: Life Lessons from the Street, and has written a graphic novel about human trafficking targeted for middle and high school age students, you can get updates about Barbara her books and her activities in the anti-trafficking community at her website follow her on twitter barbaraamaya4 and on facebook, linkedin and google + and pinterest

Contact Barbara Amaya


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