American painter Ross Bleckner was recently appointed to be the UN Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking. His work has been known internationally more than 20 years but Bleckner is not as well known as the celebrities the U.N. often picks for such ceremonial duties. Bleckner has been working to rehabilitate former child soldiers and abducted girls in Gulu, Uganda, through art therapy.
These are the paintings of 25 children from the town to Gulu in Uganda - an expression of their experience as victims of slave trafficking and forced child soldiering. This project was the inspiration of the newly appointed U.N. Goodwill Ambassador Ross Bleckner. The artist used art to reach these young victims.
"At the beginning they were very withdrawn," he recalled. "I essentially promised them that they have a story to tell and each one of their stories is special, each one of them is special. Once they believed me then they began in a couple of days to open up. And they didn't want to stop working. I literally was there 14 hours a day."
He is the first artist to serve as a goodwill ambassador. Bleckner's induction ceremony included an exhibition of 200 paintings produced by the children of Gulu. The U.N. says he will serve as an advocate for victims of human trafficking. He says he plans to go back to Uganda.
"To teach them things, to show them skills, to show them ways to create a pathway out of their circumstances, whether it's bringing in a fashion designer to show the girls how to sew a pattern, or a theater person how to put on a production, or a photographer how to take a picture. When you see a 13-year-old, write in big letters GUN, with a big X through it. And when you see these kids and you ask them about their future, and about the future of the country they live in, and you see that with everything they've been through, they are hopeful," he added.
Most of the children's paintings were sold. Several galleries in the New York City area will showcase the remaining works for the next several months.