Art Is Freedom: How art can help survivors of modern slavery to recover

Ilaria, an advocate in Hestia’s Modern Slavery Response Team, helped to facilitate our Art Is Freedom workshops over the summer. She shares why she thinks they are important for survivors.

When working with vulnerable individuals, too often people assume that all they need is a roof over their head, or a doctor or solicitor and that’s it.

Actually, we all have different aspirations in life. If you love to draw or paint, we need to support people with those aspirations, too. If someone dreams of becoming an artist, we should support them to go out and do it.

I think the Art Is Freedom exhibition fulfils that role.

Over the summer, we held two workshops for the exhibition: one was an art workshop, held in person, and another was a photography workshop, which we held online. I attended several of them for practical support.

I set up a WhatsApp group so participants could share their work and get advice from the workshop leader. All the participants were so happy to find out that their work would be in a public exhibition, where it could be seen by everyone.

See, art can be very powerful as a means of expressing emotions.

During one of the first workshops, one of the parents arrived with her young daughter and they both took part. One of the tasks was to go through a newspaper, select images that resonate with them and put them together as a collage, to represent their hopes for the future.

They used cut outs to create a picture of a house. The mother explained that this is what she wanted for her and her daughter. She could picture a house with a little garden, a cat, and their family photos on the wall. She said: “It will just be a little house, but there will be a lot of love in it.” She said they would finally live a normal life.

She started to cry, and her daughter hugged her, and started to cry too. It was very emotional. I think by this point, everyone in the room was crying!

At the end of the workshop, we made sure they were both OK before they went home. She said that she cried because it was the first time that she realised she was surrounded by people who had been through similar experiences and that she wasn’t the only one to go through something so horrendous.

Especially after the past 18 months, where all social activities have been cancelled, the Art Is Freedom workshops provided an opportunity for our clients to meet new people in person, in a safe space, and express themselves. It’s been inspiring to witness.

Find our more about our 2021 Art is Freedom exhibition