Timothy P. Schmalz discusses how Let The Oppressed Go Free came to be
After Pope Francis installed my latest sculpture on refugees in St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican requested that I create another sculpture on the theme of human trafficking. Pope Francis wrote that “Human trafficking will always exist if it is kept underground.”
The sculpture, “Let The Oppressed Go Free” depicts Saint Bahkita, the African saint who was in a previous century a slave, opening up the underground to let modern day slaves go free. This sculpture is an artistic call to awareness inspired by Pope Francis’ words.
Almost 100 human trafficked victims are represented in the piece, displaying the overwhelming extent of this issue today. The sculpture contains various sex trafficked women, girls, boys and men, depicting the horrifying scope of this situation. Branding tattoos and specific clothing make some victims easy to identify as trafficked, but the sculpture also contains other victims that appear ‘normal.’ This obscurity highlights the fact that it is not often easy to identify a trafficked victim.
The work also includes child workers; some in ragged clothes, some carrying bricks on their heads. Enslaved miners working in Africa are represented alongside domestic workers. Organ trafficked, child brides, forced beggars and child soldiers give the viewer an instant education regarding the many types of trafficked people. The work also reveals a newborn baby sold on the black market.
People from all nationalities are represented within this work, providing a visual understanding that this is a global problem. In order to truly free the real people that this sculpture strives to represent, we first must acknowledge what is often kept invisible. Human trafficking is a part of our society that is kept underground. This sculpture boldly acknowledges human trafficking and literally brings people face to face with the issue.