April 30, 2009

Ross Bleckner recruiting artists to fight child enslavement and trafficking

On Tuesday Simone Monasebian, the New York chief of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, announced that Ross Bleckner will be the next goodwill ambassador for United Nations’ agencies. Randy Kennedy reported in the NY Times yesterday that earlier this year Bleckner, who has long been involved in AIDS-related causes, went on an official mission to the Gulu district of northern Uganda. Gulu has been terrorized for many years by the rebel force known as the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has abducted and conscripted thousands of children, forcing boys and girls to become killers and sex slaves.



"Using thousands of dollars’ worth of paint, brushes and paper shipped from New York Central Art Supply in the East Village, Mr. Bleckner, 59, worked with a group of 25 children — former abductees and ex-soldiers — for more than a week at a Roman Catholic aid center. The children made 200 paintings that will be sold at a benefit at the United Nations headquarters next month at which Mr. Bleckner will be appointed goodwill ambassador. Several of the luminous paintings are now on view in the front window of the clothing store Moschino in the meatpacking district, whose company is providing money to support the Gulu project.

"'One of the things we realized about a fine artist, a painter, in this role is that the work that emerges from it really needs no translation, no dubbing like a documentary or music — it’s immediately accessible to anyone who sees it,' said Ms. Monasebian, whose office estimates that human trafficking generates $32 billion a year in profits, third only to drug and arms trafficking."

"...Bleckner said that after several days of teaching them rudimentary painting and drawing skills, many began to open up to him and to create work that powerfully expressed their experiences. (Mr. Bleckner said one haunting portrait made as part of the project is thought to be that of a henchman of Joseph Kony, the infamous commander of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Mr. Kony is wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, whose Trust Fund for Victims helped identify the children who participated in the painting project.)Mr. Bleckner said that he planned to return to the area early next year to enlarge the painting project and that — in his role as ambassador — he hoped to enlist many more artists to become involved in efforts to fight child enslavement and trafficking." Read more.

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