By Laura H. Corbin
For the Herald-Journal
Published: Sunday, November 17, 2013
His images are striking — and strikingly stark. Dark, some might say.
His purpose is to shine a light. To show the world what enslavement means. To make people understand slavery is a reality. To remind them that in the world today, 27 million people are victims of sex trafficking, child labor and other forms of slavery.
Josh Holt, a senior at Wofford College from Atlanta, uses his artwork to bring to light their plight.
Holt, this year's Whetsell Fellow at the college, has a solo exhibition that will be on display through Dec. 12 in the Martha Cloud Chapman Gallery in the Campus Life Building at Wofford.
The Whetsell Fellowship enables a Wofford student to study in the summer some aspect of the visual arts, with the study leading to an exhibition on the campus during the following school year. Holt spent the summer working with artist Dawn Dickins, concentrating on charcoal studies exploring primarily the theme of human trafficking around the world.
In the spring, Holt conceived and hosted a campus event called the 27 Hour Stand, representing the 27 million slaves in the world, including child laborers and those in the sex trade.
“I did my research; I learned a lot about it and how it happens, about the different markets,” Holt said. “By that time, I had gotten the Whetsell Fellowship, so I decided to focus my art on that theme. I thought it would be cool to shine more light on what is happening, to focus on it. It's not only about the art — I want people to know what goes on and how it goes on.”
Holt didn't get the Whetsell Fellowship the first time he applied, and that may have been a good thing.
“I was frustrated with not getting it, but it brought it home to me to do what I needed to do to get it the next time,” he says. “It brought it home to me that I needed to add the element of sex trafficking and slave trade to my art. I dove into the facts, researched and did what I needed to do.”
Working with Dickins this summer was “very challenging,” he says of creating the 16 pieces — charcoal on a variety of canvases, including plywood and paper — in the exhibition.
“I remember starting out painting a little girl after my (mission) trip to Romania, but the picture was flat. I spent hours on it, but I finally gave up and decided to move on. Just tossing something away like that — after you've spent hours on it — hurts a little.”
Still, he felt himself grow as an artist; he felt more focused.
“I remember this saying: 'Know your burden and you will find your passion.' My burden was sex trafficking and those in it. My passion was to combine my art with this horrid creature, and using my art and others' to shine light on it.”
Holt emphasizes that it's much more than just raising awareness of the issue. It's also about doing something, such as helping to fund programs aimed at ending the travesty.
“If they don't have the funds, then the awareness is all for naught; nothing happens,” he says, adding that the cause he contributes to is the International Justice Mission (IJM), which provides transitional homes for those affected by sex trafficking and lawyers to prosecute the johns and pimps who perpetuate it. Proceeds from the sale of his artwork will go to the IJM.
His interest in art started when he was just a youngster, maybe 6 or 7 years old.
“I drew a lot of Power Rangers and cartoon characters. I was always fascinated with drawing and animation,” he says, adding that he didn't take his first art class until he was in high school — when he fell in love with two things: art itself and actress Audrey Hepburn.
“She was so classy and elegant. Her face was classy and simple, yet elegant.”
He began drawing portraits not only of Hepburn, but of other people on commission.
“People seemed to like my work, and I kept improving.”
During Wofford's January Interim this year, Holt, a Spanish major, was involved in a street art course, where he got his first experience using charcoal on wood, which inspired his current medium of choice.
It takes work to continue honing his artistic abilities, but Holt isn't a stranger to such hard work. He and his twin brother, Jeremy, both came to Wofford after spending two years at a Bible college in Atlanta before joining the Terriers' football team — Josh as a safety and Jeremy as a linebacker.
“We always wanted to come to Wofford for football, but about a month before graduation (from high school), we felt the Lord had a different route for us,” Holt says. “God blessed us to travel the world on mission trips, but all the while, we stayed in shape and managed our schedules, and we stayed in touch with the coaches here (at Wofford).”
Ultimately, by keeping up their skills and their physical capabilities, they were both able to make the football team at Wofford.
To be an artist and a football player takes a lot, Holt says.
“It's a lot of work, especially figuring out how to manage my time — first as a student, then as an artist and athlete,” he said. “I just learned how to manage my time wisely, and then sleep.”
He says being in the artist's studio is “almost like resting. I'd rather do that than homework,” he jokes. “It is very challenging — like working three full-time jobs where you're required to be in certain places and make certain deadlines. Yes, it's difficult, but it's rewarding.”
Holt will study in the Dominican Republic during the January Interim in 2014 — his capstone project that will include a large service learning component there. After graduation, he hopes to work for a nonprofit whose mission follows his passion for addressing the sex trafficking issue – and, of course, he plans to continue to perfect his art.
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