'What You See Is Not Who I Am' is a portable mural series that was created in 2014 by ArtWorks for Freedom in collaboration with Groundwell's Teen Empowerment Mural Apprentice Program. Lead artist Nicole Schulman and assistant artist Edwin Vazquez worked with 20 young students to research, design and create a 12-panel mural series on modern slavery. The 4ft by 4ft panels are suitable for indoor and outdoor display and have been installed at various locations, including Emory University, George Washington University and George State University.
The students learnt about the global epidemic of human trafficking and hoped their work would raise awareness of this phenomenon. The young artist believed this series would inspire others to get involved in the fight against human trafficking and encourage people to report possible incidents of modern slavery. Several of the murals contain the National Human Trafficking Helpline and the final panel tells the public 'Don't close your eyes. Don't walk away'. It asks the public to call the helpline if they witness workers in certain conditions or situations – for example, if workers who live in poor conditions, seem afraid, never speak with you alone and provide scripted answers, bear signs of abuse, and are unpaid or paid very little.
The seventh mural in the series appears above – here we have an abstract image of a pair of eyes in front of a factory. The phrase in the centre is covering what appear to be drops of blood and the tired, drawn eyes look to the viewer. The fact that we can only see the person’s eyes, and not the rest of their face, stresses the fact that survivors are often hidden by their enslavement.
When reflecting on the project, Raymond Reyes commented that ‘we tried to work using symbols that weren’t too clichéd’ and Maybelline Amaya said that ‘creating this mural was one of the enlightening moments of my life’. Dakota Storm Austin stated that she learned that ‘there is a struggle in each and every corner of this earth’ and Tobi Oniyindi remarked that everyone took this sensitive topic very seriously.
The students who were involved are Daijean Aiken, Maybelline Amaya, Dakota Austin, Gustavo Bahena, Kaya Chou-Kudu, Treyshuon Dennis, Marcos Diaz, Juana Euceda, Kaianna Griffith, Nathaniel James, Rosaura Munoz, Stephanie Nan, Tobi Oniyinde, Kyziom Phuntsok, Raymond Reyes, Dustin Chang, Ify Chiejina and Clement Romans.