Why This Picture of Ashton Kutcher’s Daughter is Actually a Bold Statement Against Human Trafficking

Artist Molly Gochman’s Red Sand Project turns ordinary pavement into a powerful platform for social change.

image via molly gochman

Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis are about as “Hollywood It-Couple” as it gets these days. With that in mind, it’s understandable that they’d be fiercely protective of their own privacy, and even more so for their one year old daughter, Wyatt, who has thus far been kept largely out of her parent’s spotlight. So when a picture of a young girl—presumably Wyatt—appeared on Kutcher’s instagram page, people immediately took note; the image garnered nearly thirty thousand likes, and write-ups in various celebrity publications, all in a matter of just a few days. Everyone wanted to know: What had prompted Kutcher and Kunis to share their child with the public now?

As it turns out, Kutcher’s picture wasn’t really about his daughter at all. It was actually about what she was standing on—specifically, the red sand filling the cracks in the pavement beneath her feet.

image via aplusk // instagram

Artist Molly Gochman launched The Red Sand Project in 2014 as a participatory public art initiative designed to call attention to the ongoing fight against human trafficking—a way to visually remind people that there are those among us who figuratively “fall through the cracks” of society as a result of modern-day slavery and human trafficking. Since then, artists, activists, ordinary people, and now celebrities have taken to the sidewalks in cities across the United States and around the world, filling the crevices between slabs of pavement with bright red sand, and launching conversations about both the tragedy of trafficking, and ways to end it once and for all.

As Gochman explains:

Even the smallest actions can help fight the atrocity of human trafficking. I hope that Red Sand Project, along with the other extraordinary, thoughtful work of organizations and individuals fighting modern day slavery, will help expand freedom for those who are most vulnerable to trafficking: immigrants, refugees, women and children

Beyond simply filling pavement cracks with colored sand, Gochman also offers extensive facts and resources for those interested in fighting human trafficking, and collects images of the various installations on dedicated instagram and twitter accounts. What sets the Red Sand Project apart from being a simple art installation, however, is its participatory nature. Anyone interested in joining the cause, and lending their voice (well, their sidewalk, at least) to raise awareness about human trafficking can request their own Red Sand Toolkit, which includes a bag of the sand itself, a tip sheet for how best to be a part of the project, and the simple request that they share their work on social media using the #RedSandProject hashtag.

image via molly gochman

Expanding on The Red Sand Project’s basic premise, Gochman has also created Border US|MX, what she calls an “evolving earthwork” piece located in Houston, Texas. It consists of a 300 foot long trench mirroring the U.S./Mexico border, to provide a space that is “[inviting] engagement from the community [and] to foster thoughtful conversations that lead to progressive cultural change.” While at first the trench was filled with the project’s familiar red sand, it has since been modified by adding soil and seeds, until the trench became a raised mound, snaking down Houston’s Dennis street.

In addition to the art installations themselves, Gochman also hosts events as part of the Project’s larger scope, and encourages others to do the same. Last month in Houston, Gochman partnered with Aurora Picture Show to screen filmmaker Alex Rivera’s short Love on the Line, about families living along the U.S./Mexico border, as well as feature length documentary Food Chains, about farm workers fighting against the global supermarket industry.

“These interventions remind us that we can’t merely walk over the most marginalized people in our communities — those who fall through the metaphoric cracks,” explains Gochman on her website. “The simple act of placing sand in a crack or posting a photo on social media may seem inconsequential, but small actions can help raise awareness of the issues facing those who are overlooked.”

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

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