On the evening of Thursday 28th November, the Brixton-based charity Voice of Freedom hosts a sneak preview of photography from its anti-trafficking workshops. For one evening, Junction Eleven Gallery on Floral Street, in Covent Garden, will be opening its doors to support all that photography can achieve – you are invited to drop by, enjoy a glass of bubbly, meet like-minded professionals and raise some money for this fantastic charity.
The Voice of Freedom project is directed by artist and barrister Leila Segal, a Brixton resident for over 20 years. Leila’s work stems from her desire to work with those denied a voice – in particular, using art as a platform for refugee and women’s rights advocacy.The project works with Ethiopian and Eritrean women who have survived trafficking through Sudan and the Sinai, and gone on to find refuge in a Safe House over the border in Israel. It provides training in photography so that the women can represent themselves and their stories through image and text.
The UN has called the large-scale human trafficking in Egypt “one of the most unreported humanitarian crises in the world.” This expansive desert region in northern Egypt has become a major trafficking hub. Thousands of men, women and children, have been kidnapped from the refugee camps in Sudan, and taken by force to the Sinai. They are sold on several times, suffering abuse and rape at the hands of those who take them. The accounts of survivors from these camps are shocking: rape and torture of men, women and children are commonplace. The traffickers demand huge sums of money from the victims’ families, leading many to sell their homes and face destitution, in desperate attempts to save their loved ones.
Working in partnership with the highly respected UK charity PhotoVoice, Voice of Freedom uses the discipline of participatory photography – a recognised tool for advocacy and social activism. Women on the project document their lives, feelings and experiences through the camera lens, and create texts in their own words to accompany the images.
In the project’s pilot phase, a series of workshops in the Safe House itself, a group of women took the opportunity to speak out about their experiences and advocate against trafficking. And now, through their photography they will add their voices to the global debate about human trafficking – voices that those working at policy level say are missing.
Leila is keen to stress the connections of this global issue with the locality of Brixton. She hopes to run local workshops so that women in Brixton who have been affected by trafficking can contribute their voices to the project. During a talk that she gave at Brixton library as part of the Silent Cacophony project on Remembrance Day, Leila ended up in discussions with a wide variety of people – from the security guard from Ivory Coast, to a woman just arrived from Guinea-Bissau, to the supportive library staff. Come along to Covent Garden on the 28th November to hear about and be a part of this charity’s ongoing story.
Voice of Freedom is not encouraging the women to retell the stories of their traumas – it is encouraging them to become storytellers of their future. Through their pictures we are allowed to see through their eyes. And these are not the eyes of victims. They are the eyes of survivors. The tagline for Leila’s project is “trafficked women speaking into the silence.” It is down to us to ensure that the silence becomes a conversation in support of their cause.
The Voice of Freedom preview exhibition will take place on 28th November in Junction Eleven Art Gallery, 19a Floral Street, Covent Garden. on the 28th November. Entry is free and on a drop-in basis from 5:30pm to 9pm
By Lucy Binnersley