Art For A Cause

Unique art project highlights Houston's human trafficking problem with grains of red sand

Unique art project highlights human trafficking problem in Houston

Red Sand Project earthwork 1
The large-scale 'earthwork' installation of the Red Sand Project is currently on view at Caroline and Dennis Street. Courtesy of Molly Gochman
Red Sand Project Molly Gochman
Molly Gochman hopes to raise awareness about the modern-day slavery that occurs in Houston, unbeknownst to many of the city's residents. Photo by Christopher Rosales
Red Sand Project photo 2
Artist Molly Gochman's Red Sand Project, which hopes to draw attention to the horrors of human trafficking, asks participants to fill in sidewalk cracks with colored sand. Courtesy of Molly Gochman
Red Sand Project photo 1
Molly Gochman's Red Sand Project highlights the victims of human trafficking who fall through the metaphoric cracks of society. Courtesy of Molly Gochman
Red Sand Project earthwork 1
Red Sand Project Molly Gochman
Red Sand Project photo 2
Red Sand Project photo 1

Texas-born artist Molly Gochman is making moves for social change through a community art project that focuses on a horrendous problem happening right in our own backyard. Houston is one of the nation's largest hubs for human trafficking, and one out of every four people trafficked in the United States will pass through the city.

The 36-year-old artist, now based in New York City, hopes to raise awareness of this type of modern-day slavery — which she has observed first-hand in countries around the world — through her activist artwork piece called the Red Sand Project. The project invites participants to fill cracks in the sidewalk with red sand, meant to remind people to pay attention to the oft overlooked and marginalized population of human trafficking victims instead of simply ignoring a group who have fallen through the metaphoric cracks.

"Someone should be puzzled when they see a person bent over doing something odd like putting red sand into a crack. I'm inviting curiosity which leads to people asking me what I am doing." 

Participants are encouraged to share photos of their 'transformations' via social media and tag them with #RedSandProject.

Earlier this month Gochman staged a number of events encouraging Houstonians to participate, including locations in the Museum District and at the Aurora Picture Show, and create their own red sand-filled cracks for all to see.

"The sidewalk installations give me an opportunity to engage with people on the street," Gochman explained via email. "It allows me to bring the subject of human trafficking into public discussion by presenting an opportunity to question. Houstonians generally don't spend a lot of time on sidewalks. Someone should be puzzled when they see a person bent over doing something odd like putting red sand into a crack. I'm inviting curiosity which leads to people asking me what I am doing.

"Human trafficking isn’t a term they expect to hear when I respond. When I explain that addressing human trafficking requires addressing vulnerabilities that lead to trafficking and that my odd behavior is an invitation for people to be mindful of vulnerable populations around us, they usually want to learn more."

In addition to individual contributions, Gochman created a large-scale installation on a grassy property at Caroline and Dennis Street where a large crevice, resembling a crack in the ground, was filled with red sand. In several weeks, the sand-filled gash will be covered with dirt and grass will be pinned on top so that it merges with the existing turf. As the grass grafts with the ground, a scar-shaped mount will appear and serve as a living installation.

Gochman does not profit from her 'social good' art piece, hoping instead that her work will inspire people to become activists on their own. 

"Even if people don't know what the earthwork or sidewalk installations signify, these artistic interventions will stimulate contemplation of a previously ignored surface," she said. "Art offers an opportunity to soften and reflect, which can result in people becoming more empathetic. Empathy is essential for pushing progressive cultural change. Cultural change is gradual and doesn’t happen overnight. Red Sand Project is one of many voices slowly nudging this change along."