I was recently invited to view the exhibit Invisible: Slavery Today at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. If you have never been to the Freedom Center, it’s time you made the trip.
According to their informational brochure, the Freedom Center “celebrates the legacy of perseverance, courage, and multicultural cooperation embodied in the dramatic saga of the Underground Railroad leading up to the Civil War. Of equal importance, the Freedom Center uses exhibits and program to educate the public about the historic and continuing struggle to establish universal freedom in both the United States and around the world.”
Invisible: Slavery Today opened October 9th, and its the world’s first permanent exhibition on the subject of modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
I have a personal passion for history – I believe that knowing where we’ve come from and the challenges we’ve faced and overcome before can help us address and overcome similar challenges we face in the present and the future. This is the strength of the Freedom Center’s core exhibits, which challenge us to look into the darkest corners of our past so we may choose a brighter path in the future. And so we never forget how easy it is for a society to justify abuses against others. It happens slowly and insidiously… then suddenly. Knowing the pattern now can help us prevent the long slide into tyranny and oppression in the future.
Where this exhibit differs from traditional exhibits is its focus on the present as opposed to the past. We are traditionally taught that slavery is something that happened “a long time ago”; an evil that has been perpetrated on one group by another for thousands of years, but is no longer practiced. In fact, slavery is not a thing of the past. It happens today. Right now. Among people you may see and interact with every day.
How is that possible?
Through the compelling use of video, art, design, and interactive multimedia pieces, Invisible: Slavery Today explores the true stories of modern-day slaves. These are men, women, teens, and children from all walks of life who have been forced to work against their will and who have no means of escaping their condition. Forced labor, sexual slavery, and indentured-servitude-without-end for domestic workers and laborers in debt to their “bosses” are just a few ways people are still being exploited. As this exhibit indicates, women and, increasingly, children, are the most vulnerable to these forms of modern-day slavery.
Beyond the weighty importance of this topic, what I loved was the interactive nature of the storytelling involved in the exhibit. At every step, you were asked to watch, listen, touch, move, push, and experience aspects of the exhibit to learn more. Truly engaging the senses of an audience is the best way to impart lessons, and the designers of this exhibit understood that dynamic perfectly. As a native Washingtonian, I was unsurprised to see that the firm who built the exhibit was Seattle-based Touch Worldwide, whose engaging exhibits I have experienced on the west coast.
If you find yourself wondering how slavery can exist in the modern day – or you just want to learn more about how to help – I encourage you to visit the Freedom Center to experience this amazing exhibit.