February 14th is known to many -- whether they are coupled or single, in love or without it -- as a day for amorous celebration, through intimate experiences and the exchange of roses, chocolates, and kisses. But beyond the major consumer holiday of Valentine's Day lies a global activist movement of a similar name, called V-Day
. Violence against women and girls can take many forms, and V-Day draws special attention to rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation, and sex slavery through a worldwide network of regionally-supported performances, documentaries, plays, rallies, and a variety of other events.
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To call attention to this cause in our own way, we have decided to use the delicate work of Romanian and United Kingdom photographer Dana Popa
as a foundational point. After learning of the horrible realities of the sex trafficking trade, Popa set about to unveil the stories of its former victims, all of whom were around seventeen years of age and in various stages of recovery when Popa met them. The result of Popa's genuine quest was a piercing series called not Natasha
, “Natasha" being the generic name given to Eastern European sex slaves.
Many series about sensitive topics shock one into sympathy. Not so with not Natasha
; its images are often profound in the most mundane of ways, focusing not only on the women themselves but on the things that they leave behind -- while, in Popa's own words, capturing "a glimpse of their souls". It is beyond the photos themselves where the heart-breaking tales often lie, in the form of deception and betrayal from former lovers, neighbors, and friends, and of societies that allow women to be sacrificed to patterns of abuse and pain.
In the full Q&A interview to follow, Popa recounts incredible stories -- some of which are difficult to believe -- while motivating us with powerful imagery. For more details on how you can be involved in V-Day events, please visit their website
, or see more of Popa's work on her website
"This work is dedicated to Dalia and all the girls who allowed me to have a glimpse of their souls and dig up a hidden, painful past. I hope I did it in the most delicate way."
What circumstances led you to the not Natasha project?
What triggered my work was purely finding out what sex trafficking really means.
At the time, there was not much visual coverage of the illegal trade. Sex trafficking is the most profitable illegal business since the 1989 fall of the Soviet Union; it's a form of violence against women from my society. Little do people realise what this illegal trade is and how big and profitable it has become. So I decided to try and get a closer look at sex trafficking and record what it means for the women to survive sexual slavery. I chose to have a glimpse of their souls -- which at the time seemed very difficult to do, but that is what I was most interested in. After having heard their stories, I wanted to look at their traces -- at what women who had disappeared for years and who are believed to be trafficked and sexually enslaved leave behind. This became essential angle and part of the narrative.
After being involved with this project I realised that its beginnings might have been triggered by my interest and knowledge of the woman's position in societies like the one I was born in. I acknowledge this story as a way of standing up against the societies that know what happens to their women and hide it without even doing anything about it.