Image: Untitled, 2011, Eleni Lyra

at the Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery

John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY

860 11 Avenue New York, NY 10019

OPENING RECEPTION:

February 17, 2015 from 5:30-7:30pm

ON DISPLAY:

February 17th, 2015 through April 3rd, 2015

Curated by Dr. Thalia Vrachopoulos

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

JOHN JAY COLLEGE, CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK’S,  ANYA AND ANDREW SHIVA GALLERY proudly presents Of Human Bondage.

The title of this show is inspired by W. Somerset Maugham’s 1915 novel much of which is autobiographical and in turn, was based on Part IV of Spinoza’s Ethics. Also subtitled Strength of Emotions it is about humanity’s lack of control that can result in a type of enslavement. Perhaps the most destructive of these emotions is the drive for profit which is to a large extent responsible for people’s inhumanity to each other.

Exploitation occurs in multiple ways and in a variety of different industries, this exhibition highlights one small part of that experience, which is exploitation within the sex trade. It is a basic human rights violation that results in the commodification of humans. The victims can span all ages and gender identities orphaned, runaways, and others marginalized by poverty, documentation status, and structural inequity.

Individuals who are exploited through force, fraud and coercion in the sex industry are just one small part of the larger portrait of global inequity. Structural forces such as documentation issues, racial and ethnic barriers, discrimination against trans* and gender non-conforming individuals, and the many ways people face criminalization and poverty make individuals vulnerable to exploitative situations. Trafficking occurs when another exploits those vulnerabilities, whether through the sex trade or other industries. Even within the course of one person’s experience, they may move through multiple trafficking situations in domestic work, factory labor, hospitality, or agriculture.

The five artists in this show Steven Cavallo, Eleni Lyra, Yiannis Christakos, Angelo Gavrias and Photini Papahatzi explore their feelings on the subject of trafficking into the sex trade. Some of their works deal directly with the subject as do Cavallo’s, Gavrias’ or Papahatzi’s while others comment on the topic in a subtler more abstract way as do Christakos and Lyras.

Steven Cavallo began his research into the subject of Comfort Women forced into sexual slavery during WWII in Korea by Japanese soldiers. He portrays women in a series of watercolor portraits with battered faces on torn and burnt paper, mounted on burlap. They are suspended in midair as if saying “We have no place to rest our feet” a quote from a former comfort woman who to this day has no promise in her future but who instead is forced to drift through life. In his latest paintings he focuses on human trafficking today and claims that “the method of abduction has not changed much, since the days of 1942 nor have the stigma attached, the struggle to re-enter society, the lies told, the lives destroyed, and the families affected.”

Asian women of today have been sold by families, deceived by employers and encouraged by the government to work in cities that are frequented by U.S. soldiers, as hostesses in bars. These so-called bar hostesses were forced into prostitution gradually as they fell into debt to their bosses. Cavallo’s women are portrayed as victims and martyrs bodies twisted, or with thorns alluding to the Crucifixion. They are not one particular woman but the features are culled from many with their physical beauty bruised, twisted, contorted or battered. Nevertheless their underlying beauty is unmarred and their spirit often betrays their hoped for futures.

Yiannis Christakos’ recent series entitled Under My Gaze is informed by a variety of sources including satellite photographs, maps, computer graphics, and even stitching resulting in fragile networks reminiscent of landscapes or maps, and viaducts created out of cotton threads or string. He explores new methodologies of using line as medium in relation to his artistic practice in traveling through an imaginary landscape while covering the serious issue of human trafficking through geographic borders. His complex linear networks are maps that could represent those of the Balkan countries bordering Greece where Christakos lives and where human trafficking is rampant. Millions of victims are trafficked yearly in politically and economically unstable bordering countries Albania, Yugoslavia, Moldova, Bulgaria, Turkey, Macedonia where approximately 200,000 women and children are taken each year into this industry.

Christakos’s drawings and paintings can be read as maps but also as thorns of martyrdom and because they contain stitching were before feminism, seen as “women’s work.” In fact he was influenced to stitch his canvases by his mother’s work as seamstress and thus breaks with gender biased allocations such as that of “women’s work.” These stitches result in a personal cartography involving memory, emotion, symbol and are like pictorial collages. Furthermore, Christakos imbeds videos and text within his topographies that contain testimonies from trafficked individuals speaking their own language, while relating their personal Golgothas.

Photini Papahatzi’s photographs and video Studio Utopia examines human exploitation through testimonies of immigrants from Albania, Bulgaria, Romania in the brothels of Athens, Greece. They have been made to prostitute themselves for 15 Euros and then to move into, so-called studios. In Studio Utopia video a taxi driver describes the spread of such studios revealing that he also prostituted women from Russia. Such individuals were driven by poverty into these desperate circumstances by rough childhoods, dangerous family conditions, tricked by pimps into thinking they would have a better future, single motherhood, and other causes.

Papahatzi’s second series Elevador consists of photographs, video and performance and addresses sexuality, media, gender and prostitution. It takes place in Salvador de Bahia that refers to Brazil’s iron monumental elevator built in 1873 that separates the upper and lower cities. Upper City called Pelourinho meaning whipping post, is the locus of the slave trade with prostitutes aged from 12-26. In the Lower City or Codade Baixa where the poorest live, the prostitutes are older and cost less. Most are crack addicts and are forced to fish for clients by the docks where pimps sell them for as little as $2.

Eleni Lyra’s work comprises 9 photographs digitally printed on fabric panels depicting children’s legs on red cloth. The youngsters’ legs are spindly, and appear malnourished and are in some of the works, crossed and hanging reminiscent of the Crucifixion. Indeed they can be read as martyred children not only because of their legs’ positioning but also because of the red cloth that serves as background which we associate with Christ’s passion.

Child trafficking has become a subject of increasing concern in unstable countries transitioning to market economies especially for post-Soviet countries and Eastern Europe. These victims are usually under 12 years old and are made to beg, rob, and undertake other street crimes for the bosses who abuse them daily. The ones over 15 years of age are pressed into sexual slavery for commercial purposes. Especially vulnerable are ones with disabilities and gypsy children sold abroad who have suffered from domestic violence, school drop outs, or who have already been in institutions. Lyra’s photographs even while representing the general characteristics of martyred children because of their subject, their simplicity and strong color, have a powerful and lasting impact upon the viewer.

In Germany where the artist Angelo Gavrias lives and works prostitution was legalized in 2001 yet human trafficking and exploitation are still significant problems. According to a Spiegel article, about 65% of what are called ‘migrant sex workers’ come from Romania, and Bulgaria and are expected to accommodate large numbers of clients while being locked up in brothels. Politicians promote the ‘respectable whore’ myth in which women have chosen freely to do this work. Police are convinced that the choice was theirs so are absolved for their inaction. However, those in the know realize that in fact legalizing prostitution in Germany, has served to create a subsidy program for pimps making trafficking even more attractive as an industry.

Gavrias depicts this social reality by photographing a young Croatian single mother named Nada during her work. His photographic series entitled Social Strip has won prizes for its strength of character and portrayal of the subject. Nada goes through her life entrapped by circumstances without any hope of escape to perform various sex acts in order to support her family. Gavrias has captured her wearing a pink wig, huge sunglasses, and leather accessories or has subtly shown only her white and purple high heel pumps. He also shows us the accompanying career addictions; cigarettes, alcohol, sexy lingerie, spike heels, and snazzy electronics. However, Gavrias goes beyond documentation by presenting us with the theater of the profession capturing Nada for instance, while dressing for clients with ten inch heels and baby dolls. In general, Gavrias delivers a true picture of the girl without critiquing her circumstances but, rather, sympathizing with her plight.

Images from Opening Night:

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Catalogue for exhibition available:

http://www.blurb.com/b/6039482-of-human-bondage

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One thought on “Of Human Bondage

  1. I just visited this exhibit today and I’m so glad that I did! It is very touching and it taught me about something that I didn’t know much about before. I recommend that everyone go to this exhibit!!

    Like

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