“It ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name – modern slavery. Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time.”  ~ President Barack Obama, Sept. 25, 2012 

As President Barack Obama was speaking out against the atrocity of human trafficking several years ago, Christine Marque was contemplating the issue, imagining how she might one day join the fight against modern slavery.

“When I was 14, I had to write a social justice paper for school, so as I was Googling, looking for ideas, I came upon the term human trafficking,” explains Marque, now 22 and creative director for Barking Squirrel Media. “I thought it had to do with some sort of highway violation. I started looking into it, realized what human trafficking is, and looked at statistics.

“I became fascinated with the issue, because I had been completely unaware that anything like that existed,” she continues. “I started looking into the statistics in Ohio and then Cincinnati, and come to find out, being a 14-year-old girl is one of the ages most vulnerable to sex trafficking. That blew me away – my parents and friends and I had never discussed this. It kind of scared me, and it became stuck in my brain.  I kept thinking, ‘What can I do, as an artist, to make a difference?’”

The answer, which materialized about three years ago, turned out to be “Motel X,” an interactive multimedia art installation premiering in the Skirball Gallery at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center from January 11 through April 5.

“I believe in creating interactive components so that people can experience something and remember or have memories from that,” Marque says of her artistic approach. “Whenever I go to a museum exhibit, I usually end up in the children’s section because it is the most interactive and the most interesting. So, for ‘Motel X’ I wanted to create something interactive and memorable, something with great visual interest that also has some good learning opportunities to go along with it.”

Hence, Marque has created ‘Motel X’ to exude what she calls “a 70s, kind of outlandish” look and feel, beginning with a motel bedroom and bathroom.

“Everything that can be interactive, is. You can look into the couch, open the drawers; you can touch everything and there are activation points throughout the entire exhibit.”

For instance, when you “open” the couch, it says, “Things You Have Lost,” and when you pick up a nearby TV remote, it says “Dignity” on the back. There are also links to websites and statistical information.

“One of the goals is to let people know human trafficking is happening within the I-275 beltloop, not just in India, not just in Europe,” Marque says. “It’s here, and we should be aware of it and be able to recognize the signs. Also, hopefully, this will inspire people to volunteer and get involved with some great local organizations that are doing amazing things to battle human

trafficking but need more people, donations and resources. So, I hope ‘Motel X’ activates exhibit-goers toward volunteering for the cause.”

One of the coolest parts of the exhibit is the spinning vortex tunnel at the end, Marque notes. The idea behind the vortex tunnel is to offer exhibit goers an intriguing optical illusion, a metaphorical journey into how difficult and confusing it is to not only be a victim of human trafficking, but to try to escape it. The vortex tunnel leads to the Hope Room, a gallery offering visitors a moment of respite and a chance to digest everything they have experienced while viewing artwork created by those who have survived human trafficking, or watching a series of videos and other media that Marque has curated.

 “If, after experiencing ‘Motel X,’ one person realizes, ‘Oh, my boyfriend is kind of weird like this; I need to look into it,’ then it has been 100 percent worth it,” she says. “The whole point is to let people know it could be someone you are close to — and usually it is — and you need to be aware of that. That is one of the stereotypes we want to break – kidnapping does happen, it can happen here, but more often it is somebody you know trafficking a child.”

How YOU Can Help

Polaris hosts the National Human Trafficking Hotline website and manages the U.S. National Tip Hotline (1.888.373.7888).

“The whole idea behind the eternal flame on our balcony is that it will continue to burn until the last person is relieved from slavery,” says Jacqueline Dace, Deputy Director at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. “Human trafficking places people into modern day bondage and is a direct violation of freedom, so ‘Motel X’ is in line with our mission.

“We want to get the message out that [human trafficking] not only happens here, but also to offer tips on how to help recognize it,” Dace continues. “It is here, and we have preconceived notions about what human trafficking is, so we may not recognize it in our neighborhoods or businesses. We want to make sure people become more aware, know what to look for, not just in motels but places they frequent in their own neighborhoods.”

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is located at 50 E. Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information about human trafficking, visit the National Human Trafficking Hotline website, www.humantraffickinghotline.org. To learn more about the Freedom Center’s End Slavery Now program, visit www.endslaverynow.org.