'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 ninth mural in the series appears above – here we have an emphasis on the enslavement of agricultural workers. President Abraham Lincoln is depicted in the centre of a coin, with the phrase ‘trafficked workers are paid 2 pennies per pound’ highlighting how little some people in this industry are paid. The cracked stopwatch shows that many workers feel their situation is endless and time ticks on for these people if the public do nothing. This is heightened by the fact that Lincoln has a blindfold over his eyes, showing that if the public turn a blind eye to modern slavery then it will continue to occur. The question ‘who will emancipate them’ places responsibility on the viewer and calls them to action.
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.