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Street art depicting modern slavery can empower community action towards ending enslavement

Friday, 10 January 2020

Modern slavery murals can play an important role in the fight to end modern slavery, according to a new report written by academics from the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham.

Coinciding with the United States’ National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, the report, “Painting Towards Freedom: the Power of Murals and Street Art for Modern Antislavery”, highlights how communities around the world are using this form of art to create slavery-free identities for their cities in ways that are accessible to all.

Part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Global Challenges Research Fund (AHRC/GCRF) project, “The Anti-Slavery Knowledge Network”, the report draws from the Rights Lab's online collection Imagining Freedom. Launched last year, it is the world’s first large collection of murals focused on modern slavery and human trafficking.

Uncovering the spread, purpose, and functions of antislavery murals across the globe, the report analyses modern slavery murals for their themes and functions, then uses four case studies from the United Kingdom, the United States, India, and Africa to assess the role of murals in community-based antislavery work

It finds that murals perform a multitude of activist functions, including:

  1. Raising awareness for a specific solution
  2. Offering a physical site for activist groups conducting events and rallies
  3. Involving survivors of modern slavery
  4. Signalling the presence of activist organisations and antislavery work in the area
The report shows that murals function as sites of activism by catalysing community action at their physical sites, and by creating a sense of a global antislavery culture that extends into streets and communities. Their presence helps to create a narrative of empowerment over one of victimisation.
Hannah Jeffery, author of the report and Rights Lab Research Associate in Community Activism and Visual Culture

The report provides suggestions on how artists, NGOs, local community partnerships, city councils, schools and other mural sponsors can best use this form of antislavery visual culture.

The recommendations made in the report include:

  1. Focus on the potential of local murals to communicate context-specific solutions and information, rather than general awareness-raising and emotional appeal;
  2. Choose sites that have the potential to become spaces for community meetings and events;
  3. Work to engage survivors of slavery in the creation of murals, so that this expert input forms the message and aesthetic of the final output;
  4. Connect the creation of their mural with existing and planned community-based antislavery work, including by engaging modern slavery city/country partnerships and taskforces in the UK and the US, or NGO networks in other countries, so that each new mural can help to cement a city’s identity as one working to become slavery-free.
What we see in this report is the power of murals and street art to bring together local communities and provide a jumping-off point for community education. It shows that as our global antislavery community works towards a slavery-free world by 2030, artists have a key role to play locally in helping to build slavery-free communities. I would like to see an antislavery mural in every city!
Professor Zoe Trodd, Director of the Rights Lab

Story credits

More information is available from the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham at  rightslab@nottingham.ac.uk or +44 (0) 115 82 83072; or Katie Andrews, Media Relations Manager in the Press Office at the University of Nottingham, on +44(0)1158467156 or katie.andrews@nottingham.ac.uk 

Our academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Globelynx fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at University Park campus. For further information please contact a member of the Communications team on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email pressoffice@nottingham.ac.uk or see the Globelynx website for how to register for this service. 

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Notes to editors:  

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named both Sports and International University of the Year in the 2019 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 20 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally.  

The Rights Lab is a University of Nottingham Beacon of Excellence. We are the largest group of modern slavery scholars in the world, and home to the world’s leading academic experts on modern slavery. Our programmes focus on Data and Measurement, Survivors and Cultures, Communities and Society, Law and Policy, Ecosystems and the Environment, and Business and Economies. Our Modern Slavery Evidence Unit is the interface between the Rights Lab’s research base and modern slavery change agents in government, business and civil society in the UK and internationally. Follow the Rights Lab on Twitter. 

The report, Painting Towards Freedom: the Power of Murals and Street Art for Modern Antislavery, can be downloaded here.

Katie Andrews - Media Relations Manager Engineering
Email: katie.andrews@nottingham.ac.uk
Phone: 0115 846 7156
Location:

Our academics can now be interviewed for broadcast via our Media Hub, which offers a Globelynx fixed camera and ISDN line facilities at University Park campus. For further information please contact a member of the Communications team on +44 (0)115 951 5798, email  pressoffice@nottingham.ac.uk or see the Globelynx website for how to register for this service.

For up to the minute media alerts, follow us on Twitter

Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our 44,000 students - Nottingham was named both Sports and International University of the Year in the 2019 Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide, was awarded gold in the TEF 2017 and features in the top 25 of all three major UK rankings. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer, proud of our Athena SWAN silver award, and a key industry partner- locally and globally.

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