Academy-award winning actress Emma Thompson was so moved by the plight of a Moldovan woman who survived being trafficked for sex, she decided to create an art installation that would help viewers to put themselves in Elena's shoes and bring attention to this growing problem.
"Journey," which will be exhibited in New York City Nov. 10 to 16 in Washington Square Park, tells the story of Elena, a woman from the Eastern European republic of Moldova who, at age 18, was promised a secretarial job in England. Instead, once she got there, her passport was confiscated and she was forced into prostitution.
"Journey" consists of seven shipping containers. Each has a keyhole through which the viewer can peer to see a chronology of Elena's story. The first shipping container depicts Elena's childhood and the loss of her father. In another, the viewer can see Elena approached in a Moldovan marketplace and offered work.
Thompson personally curated one of the more disturbing of the shipping containers which depicts Elena's forced prostitution in England. She had Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell design the clothes she was forced to wear, and when the viewer looks into the keyhole, she sees her face superimposed onto the body of a woman in prostitute's clothing. They wanted the viewer to have an experience of what it meant to lose one's identity. Thompson said that even men "didn't laugh or find it funny. They understood absolutely what it meant."
Thompson met Elena while doing work with UNODC (United Nations Office on Drug and Crime) to help raise awareness about the practice of trafficking women, and it sounds as if she's not only telling her plight, she's giving Elena the voice that was taken away from her. In the last shipping container, Elena tells her story on tape.