The Art Is For Sale; Our Kids Are Not

A Paschal-Hunter Art Gallery exhibition raises awareness about the child sex trafficking epidemic.


Derrick Bell's Clowned Out uses dance as metaphor.

Photo by Catherine Brozena

Oakland artist Derrick Bell calls his latest body of work The Dance, a name that usually conjures up something beautiful, colorful, and alive with spirit. But the dance that he highlights in his paintings and sketches is heartbreaking and sinister. It represents a dance that enslaves young people, exploits their bodies, and changes them. It is “the dance” of child sex trafficking.

“I have always had an appreciation for dance,” said Bell. “Dance is beautiful. There’s a conscience to it, a story that it expresses. I wanted to use the metaphor of dance to bring attention to human trafficking. Because, like dance, human trafficking is orchestrated and choreographed. But it’s a perversion of all that. It degrades our society and dehumanizes it.”

Bell’s art exhibition is timed with what might be described as a slow but steady emergence of understanding about the pervasiveness of human trafficking worldwide, specifically the commercial sexual exploitation of children, or CSEC as it is known. According to H.E.A.T. Watch, an anti-trafficking organization in the Bay Area, Oakland is considered an epicenter for underage sex trafficking and is believed to have one of the highest concentrations of this activity in the country. Children as young as 12 years old are often kidnapped or coerced into leaving their families. They’re groomed into sex workers where they are pimped out and exploited for money. Women and girls of color are the most common victims.

“This entire body of work that Derrick Bell produced brings attention to the pain and exploitation endured by these young people as well as the joy of surviving and finding a second chance in life,” said gallery owner Kelly Paschal-Hunter. She serves as a mentor and board member for MISSSEY, a survivor-centered organization that supports and advocates for youth who are victims of child sex trafficking in Oakland and across California. Proceeds from the sale of Bell’s artwork on display at the gallery will be donated to MISSSEY.

Paschal-Hunter met Bell as she was just preparing to open her gallery in Old Oakland last November, and the two discovered an immediate connection. Bell’s yearning to turn his artistic expressions into an outcry that could make a difference in the community fused with Paschal-Hunter’s passion to draw attention to the issue of human trafficking and her desire to have her gallery be a reflection of the diverse collage that is Oakland. As a former manager of Samuel’s Gallery, one of the first African-American-owned art galleries in Oakland, Paschal-Hunter has a keen interest in representing artists who have historically been underrepresented in the art world.

“I want the artwork in my gallery to be a reflection of everyone,” Paschal-Hunter said. “It should have something that reflects you and me. I think a lot of art galleries aren’t willing to step out and represent artists whose work is lesser known. But I love these artists and their work. They have something to say to the world.”

The Paschal-Hunter Art Gallery features an array of artists, from those who are less familiar to ones who have been featured in established museums like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

On a recent Friday afternoon, bright and bustling with the energy of the nearby weekly farmers market, Paschal-Hunter’s gallery stood as a warm and reflective haven. Artists whose work was on display in the gallery came and went. Some, like Bell, even set themselves up at a nearby table and sketched ideas onto paper. The art on display is, like the community of artists it represents, an interweaving of all kinds of media—drawing, painting, sculpture, photography. There is a vibrancy that the gallery brings to the neighborhood. One has a sense that art is being born there, on the spot.

“When I get up in the morning,” said Paschal-Hunter, “I just fly out of bed, because I’m so excited to get to the gallery, to my community, and do my best to represent my artists.”

The community Paschal-Hunter is cultivating is as powerful a work of art as the ones she has on display. And like all good works of art, it is giving voice to the issues and perspectives that might otherwise go unseen.


Derrick Bell’s The Dance art exhibition can be seen at the Paschal-Hunter Gallery, 902 Washington St., 925-785-7569 Oakland, through Sept. 10;

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