How Red Sand Is Highlighting Human Trafficking
The sight of red sand seeping into sidewalk cracks is jarring, to say the least, considering it almost looks like zigzagging streams of blood. But that’s the intent of one activist artist who’s using the alarming color to stop people in their tracks and start them talking about the nearly 36 million people worldwide living in modern slavery.
Artist Molly Gochman created the Red Sand Project in 2014 to call attention to those who metaphorically “fall through the cracks” of human trafficking, including children, girls, and refugees, and to inspire passersby to join her in literally spreading awareness of the issue in their communities.
“When you see someone bent down on a sidewalk placing a substance in a crack, that’s unusual. This bold act requires courage. It causes people to pause and question,” Gochman told TakePart.
Since its launch, people all over the world have taken to the streets to pour the symbolic red sand in cracked sidewalks, including actor Ashton Kutcher, who recently posted a photo to Instagram of his daughter standing near red-sand-filled cracks.
“The outpouring of participation has been astounding,” said the New York City–based Gochman. “Hopefully, the more people who participate, the more we can work to eradicate this atrocity.”
The artist first learned about the pervasive problem of human trafficking after reading an article on modern slavery published in The New York Times. At the time, she was aware of the issue, but she had no idea how close to home it could be.
“Modern-day slavery is rampant overseas, but it is also happening in our backyards. I’m a Houston native and didn’t realize that Houston is a hub for trafficking,” she told TakePart.
Shortly thereafter, Gochman started calling local organizations focused on human trafficking to hear more about what they were doing and how she could help. Her involvement with organizations addressing modern slavery, including Children’s Rights and Polaris, eventually led her to the idea for the Red Sand Project, which she introduced at a major art exhibit in Miami last year.
Today, the Red Sand Project has grown from sidewalk installations to an excavation project in Houston called Border, USA|MX. Gochman and a team of activists carved a two-foot-wide gash in the ground in the shape of the U.S.-Mexico border as a representation of the discrimination facing refugees. They then invited the community to fill it in with red sand, which was level with the grass surrounding the opening. For the next phase, the group piled four-foot-high mounds of earth and grass onto the sand-filled gap to give the impression of an open wound turned scar.
“The installation—which is surrounded by businesses, homes, and nonprofit service providers—has helped us create a public space where people can gather,” said Gochman. “Ideally, people will use it to connect with one another and encourage dialogue around difficult cultural issues like discrimination and human trafficking.”
The artist is calling on people who put red sand in their community sidewalks to share their photos on social media with the hashtag #redsandproject to further raise awareness for victims of human trafficking. Those interested in getting involved can apply to be local ambassadors for the cause online or order their free Red Sand Toolkit on the project’s site.