Visual Arts

Little River art exhibit aims to raise awareness of child slavery

Art helps save children

Elisa ‘Shalak Attack’ Monreal paints an uplifting mural of the escape of a child on a giant owl.
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Elisa ‘Shalak Attack’ Monreal paints an uplifting mural of the escape of a child on a giant owl.

Buy art, save children is the motto of a 10-day exhibit beginning Friday in Little River.

Street Art for Mankind uses art to raise awareness on child slavery and helps free child slaves with the funds raised.

It is estimated that 168 million children are forced to work in unpleasant, and sometimes life-threatening conditions. United Nation statistics show that there are 1.2 million children trafficked every year, and Florida has the third-highest rate in the nation.

Thibault Decker, a co-founder of the event, said that art has always been a medium to convey a message. He said art can “open people’s eyes” to this issue.

“Art is a universal language that can highlight the problem of child slavery and the terrible, terrible conditions,” Decker said. “Child slavery is unbearable, especially in our century. And it’s not only happening on the other side of the world, it happens on our backyard.”

Joining Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, a famous children right’s activist, will be 35 globally renowned graffiti artists. Every piece of artwork sold will go toward Satyarthi’s foundation, which works to free children and educate them.

Artists work tirelessly daily before the opening ceremony, crafting murals on shipping containers. The containers, which stretch over 12,000 square-feet of space, when seen from a bird’s eye view spell out ‘SAM’ — the acronym for the event.

Each artist had different themes that pay tribute to children. Some were hopeful, showing children escaping their shackles and living a new life; some were darker, showing children mining or locked in a cage.

Elisa “Shalak Attack” Monreal, a Canadian-Chilean artist who specializes in drawing animals and environmental issues, created an uplifting mural by depicting a child on a giant owl, fleeing an industrial site, toward a forest, symbolizing peace and a chance for a new life.

“Art is used to tell stories, with a narrative structure that I hope people can interpret and make them think on what is happening,” Monreal said. “It is important to use our artistic voices to talk for those who don’t have a voice. In this case, kids who are slaves, forced into situations that they shouldn’t be in.”

Julian “Mr. Cenz” Phetean, a London-based graffiti artist, has plied his trade all over the world, most recently at Art Basel in Miami Beach. Phetean, who creates unique abstract female portraits, was excited to join the event.

“This is a project close to my heart, I love doing community stuff that has a meaning,” Phetean said. “I’ve done a lot of work with children over the years and child issues are very close to me.”

Decker, a father of three girls, said he saw how the corporate world made no attempts to tackle this problem. Spurred by the unimaginable scenario in which one of his daughters would face the grim situation of forced labor, he hopes SAM can help free as many children as possible.

“We want people to understand they have an impact, they can free those kids,” Decker said. ”We can make a stand. We believe in art for social change, the power of art to open the eyes of the world. What better than street art?”

If you go

▪ What: Street Art for Mankind

▪ Where: 7401 NW Miami Ct., Miami

▪ When: VIP reception 6 to 9 p.m. Friday; regular hours 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday through Feb. 20

▪ Tickets: General admission $20, plus $1.99 fee through Thursday; $28, plus $2.39 from Friday; VIP reception on Friday $150, plus $8.49. Purchase at