Over the last few months, I’ve been following a project friend, artist, and modern abolitionist Timothy C. Dyk undertook to examine the realities of the human trafficking in the United States. Tim and a crew of documentary filmmakers just wrapped shooting their new film Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth.
Tim’s exhibit Land of the Free (Home of the Slaves) is featured in the film and was recently displayed to the public in an abandoned Dairy factory in Ellensburg, Washington. Tim graciously shared photographs of the exhibit and his thoughts with me about the event.
Tying up Loose Ends
Arriving back in Ellensburg on May 29th, I had about one final week of preparations for Land of the Free (Home of the Slave) – a work nearly 9 months in the making. Flying in from Nashville, Tennessee the night before, I returned knowing there were a lot of essential loose ends in need of tying – putting the finishing touches on a handful of paintings, as well as getting the entire body of work to a place where it could be displayed to the public.
A bulk of the painting had been completed before I had left home, but there were a handful that still required some final layers of content. To get all the paintings to a point of completion required a few long-houred days (and nights) comprised of simultaneously working on parts of multiple paintings. It stretched my attention, as I much prefer to focus on one thing before moving on to the next, but by the Thursday before the Saturday’s showing, all paintings were ready.
The Warehouse Space (Drama Included)
Earlier in the spring, I was able to finalize plans to show the exhibit in some derelict warehouse space in an old Darigold Milk Factory. A friend of mine and his father own the building, so they proved to be very helpful in the process of figuring how we could host a public event in such a space. I had felt for a long time leading up to the show that the run-down space was ideal for an art show about such a “dirty” issue. It didn’t seem like it would be right to display such heavy subject matter in a clean and comfortable gallery – it was exciting to feel that even the event’s location was in line with the theme of the art. Though we did run into a bit of a hiccup just two days prior to the scheduled event.
Just two days before the event, The Daily Record, Ellensburg’s newspaper, published a small article talking about my the exhibit, and the film that our group from YWAM has been working on. I was glad to get some good PR, though I soon received word that some local building inspectors caught wind of the show, and they were uneasy about a public event taking place in an “industrial” location. The next day, a couple building inspectors came to the location, along with the local Fire Chief to take a look at the space. I was relieved to find that they decided to allow the show to take place for the single showing – and that we wouldn’t have to find a new location on such short notice.
After the inspection, Scott Martin and my father and I were able to hang the art and set up the lighting and get everything to a point where it would be ready for the show the following night. By the time Saturday morning came, all that was left to take care of were the small details like food, beverages, a music playlist, and some final supplementary décor (patriotic balloons and streamers.) It was nice to have some of my family and friends there to help get all the final details squared away.
Red, White, Blue
We were working on finishing touches up until the first visitors started to arrive. As the demographics of Ellensburg are very mixed, I was expecting quite the diverse crowd, which certainly ended up being the case. Visitors ranged from high school and college students to adults and senior citizens – many of whom I had never met before. Throwing any event in Ellensburg is always somewhat of a gamble, but over the course of the night, I would estimate that there at least between 100 and 200 people that showed up. I felt like it was a comfortable atmosphere, where people felt free to hang around the eccentric space, eating peanuts, drinking glass-bottled Coke, and hanging out amongst the eccentric assortment of items found around the warehouse space (engines, antiques, tools, etc.) There was even a bar-b-que area where people were able to roast hot dogs and enjoy the pleasant summer evening.
For a long time leading up to the show, even in the process of making the art, I was a bit nervous as to how the work would be received. In contrasting the root issues of human trafficking in the United States with the iconic foundational values of our country (Justice, Freedom, Liberty, etc.) I figured it would be hard to escape ruffling a few feathers. Surprisingly though, I found people were remarkably receptive and understanding of the message of the art. (Perhaps the feathers that were ruffled were kept subdued?) It was encouraging to get some positive feedback from the way the message was communicated, but it also seemed like some people were provoked to some deeper thinking about the issues at hand. It seemed to me like there were some heavy hearts, that were considering what could practically be done in our town, state, and nation to address human trafficking. With this, it wasn’t necessarily that I had conclusive answers to give, but it is encouraging to know there are other people in my community who want to wrestle with the tough issues rather than just walking away unchanged. When people see and learn about this issue, it seems it is something they want to stand up for.
Ending Modern Day Slavery
With art it is most always difficult to see any sort of tangible outcome, as ideas and paradigm shift and change-of-heart cannot necessarily be measured empirically. I do feel though that the showing of Land of the Free (Home of the Slave) could have begun to unite individuals within the community of Ellensburg to consider what we can do with our resources to become a part of the movement of ending modern day slavery, and helping to rehabilitate people who have been affected by it in the past. I think it has definitely provided a foundation for future communications and cooperation to take place regarding what steps we can take to help in the greater abolitionist movement around our country and abroad.