John Mark Herskind is only 18, but already he has created a campaign to raise awareness of the plight of children around the world forced into the sex trade, and to raise funds for The Blind Project, a charity that helps rehabilitate South-east Asian victims of the trade.

Designers Against Child Slavery (DACS) has just put on its second fundraising exhibition, which saw specially created artworks auctioned alongside a fashion show at Red Bull Space in SoHo, New York. Entitled Episodes, the exhibition brings together work by the likes of François Leroy, Ars Thanea, Niklas Lundberg, mydeadpony and Digital Arts contributors Mart Biemans and Rob Shields.

“I started DACS back in 2010 after meeting some people from The Blind Project,” says John, a design student living in Columbia, South Carolina. “I’d always known about sex trafficking but I never really did anything about it. There came a point where I couldn’t sit by and watch it continue without doing something.”

John used his connections to put together the first DACS exhibition in 2010. “After eight months of planning, seeing the gallery packed out with over 400 people was just a dream come true,” he says. The exhibition brought together work from Florian Nicolle, Mike Harrison, Maxime Quoilin, Man-Tsun, Sara Blake and Nathan Walker. “Sara’s work was very simple and aesthetically pleasing,” says John, “[while] Nathan’s was disturbing and made you think about the whole issue in a very real light.”

Three phases

That first exhibition gave artists a free hand to approach the subject of exploitation within the sex trade as they wanted, but the second provided a more specific brief. Artists were asked to illustrate one of the three phases in the life of a victim of sex trafficking: Coercion, Enslavement and Restoration. That focus has helped them create some powerful pieces, whether distressing or hopeful.

“It’s amazing to use design for something other then selling products,” John says. “You really get a great feeling from inspiring artists to search for other ways they can use their talents to create a better world.”

When we spoke to John, he was concentrating on the exhibition opening, which happened on October 1, but he already had some ideas for where he wants to take DACS next. “Hopefully in 2012 we will have the chance to raise money for art supplies and go [to Bangkok] to teach [art therapy] classes to girls in aftercare facilities,” he says.

“I’ve gotten a lot from DACS over the past two years,” he adds. I’ve met many great people, learned a lot of new things, and heard a lot of amazing stories – but the best part is the sense of purpose.” dacsunited.com

Episodes includes art by Raphaël Vicenzi aka mydeadpony (bottom), François Leroy (middle) and Niki Pilkington (top)