Paint a Face for Dawn’s Place

Paint a Face for Dawn’s Place

Action planning is at the heart of the artwork for the Paint a Face for Dawn’s Place project, an exhibition of women’s portraits. The experienced artist activists of Dawn’s Place diligently developed a series of events, assembled teams of volunteers and experts, and then executed multiple art happenings across Philadelphia. Their goal is to raise awareness of human trafficking by focusing on the faces of the women we love.

Attracting attention to a societal problem that is difficult to view without revulsion requires communicating a clear-eyed narrative explained through beauty, color and creativity. Taking on scary, real world, challenges, like human trafficking in America, using art as the social activator necessitates exceptional, multi-faceted, and fearless leadership. Organizing volunteer efforts and activities that are pleasantly memorable activates conversations about social injustice in a natural way helping the information to spread from person to person.

Paint a Face for Dawn’s Place activities raise awareness of Commercial Sex Trafficking by making art about those at risk, putting on art shows, generating publicity, and social interaction with the public. Displaying the portraits, faces of dozens of women and girls, renders the information into discrete packets of facts that are easy to remember and share with others. The images represent people who are trapped in human trafficking in Philadelphia. The International Labor Organization estimates that at any one time, 12.3 million people in the world seek freedom from modern forms of slavery.

On January 17th, artists Joanna Fulginiti and Bonnie Macallister hosted a Paint a Face for Dawn’s Place art event asking volunteer artists to gather in St. Augustine’s Church to paint portraits of a woman they love. The meeting hall in the historic church with the high ceilings echoed the pop music booming from the sound system; the room buzzed with activity. Sunshine streamed through the tall windows onto an array of round tables set up around the hall with supplies for painting on hand. Art paper, large pump jugs of tempera paint in multiple colors, paper plates for palettes, ketchup cups to hold paint, water cups, rolls of paper towels and an assortment of paint brushes were arranged on a long table. Another table was set with an abundance of candy, cake, cookies and soda. The sugar rush prompted lots of giggling from the teenage girls looking at photos of their subjects on their smart phones.

Each table of painters was different: a daughter painting a portrait of her mother patiently modeling, a self-portrait completed with help of a make-up mirror, groups of teens in selfie mode, solo painters and teams of friends with photos of loved ones. The paintings came to life in a myriad of styles representing all of the women in our lives. I settled in at a table near the window and painted a portrait of my seven-year-old great niece in a long limbed ballet pose wearing a tutu. J lives in Florida with her mom, and her grandparents, my sister and brother-in-law. She is loved by her extended family beyond measure; her life is filled with studies, dance, sports, pets, and princesses. Still just a child she is spiritual, beautiful and wise. Painting my great niece’s portrait while surrounded by the other painters was creative, emotional and fun. The afternoon was planned to be fun, the activity of art making an integral line item of the social activism agenda.

Paint a Face for Dawn’s Place

The collection of portraits was revealed in Philadelphia’s iconic Love Park on April 11th, a warm spring day. The paintings were laid out in the sun, connected together in three rows with alligator clips, twine and rods. The information table was managed by a team of volunteers ready to answer questions about Dawn’s Place. Joanna’s research revealed that the best value for a city permit allowing an art show in a Philadelphia public space is Love Park. The Love statue with the view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Ben Franklin Parkway and eccentric City Hall at the opposite end attracts a steady stream of visitors. When the portraits are shown together, an easily understandable cultural meme emerges, the bits of information unpack differently for each viewer and a personal message is communicated; the faces of human trafficking are the faces of people we love.

By taking the emotion and anger we feel towards the evil perpetrated by horrible people on innocent women and children and turning the facts into an empathetic message, the cultural meme can spread it’s informational content and create social awareness by-passing the revulsion with reality. The ‘ick’ factor is over-written with familiar faces and facts. Using social media, a call to action had been sent to social influencers to generate publicity for the show. Love Park is a photographer haven and the paparazzi-like frenzy attracted attention, as images of the art show streamed across Twitter, Instagram, facebook, and blogs. #PaintforDawnsPlace

Paint a Face for Dawn's Place

The Dawn’s Place team members, member’s of the Women’s Caucus for Art, are well organized and action oriented, their work with the Ragdoll Project garnered them international acclaim as part of ‘Half the Sky: Intersections in Social Practice Art’ show held in Shenyang, China, April 2014. The rag dolls were displayed bound together at their wrists and ankles. In April 2012 an art exhibit called ‘Stop Slavery Now: A Conversation About Human Trafficking’ was shown at F&N Gallery on Frankford Avenue in Philadelphia.

Dawn’s Place mission is to help women negatively affected by commercial sexual exploitation. Paint a Face for Dawn’s Place is an on-going social practice art project that raises awareness of the modern slavery of trafficked, pimped, and prostituted women. Social activism is a performance art that requires coordinated teamwork, smart ideas, clever planning, and determined individuals taking actions to make change happen.

Written and photographed by DoN Brewer

This post was originally written for the New Art Writing Challenge sponsored by the Philly Artblog and The St. Claire magazine. The essay did not win but will be published in a future publish-on-demand book. I am sharing this story on Memorial Day because I can’t forget the faces of the children trapped in human trafficking. Learn more about Dawn’s Place on DoNArTNeWs.

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