Listen to talented survivor talk as his artwork is featured in exhibition

October 6, 2023

Click play to hear Mike* speak about his artwork:

A labour exploitation survivor who Justice and Care has been supporting is to have his artwork displayed in an exhibition about modern slavery.

Mike* was exploited by people he initially believed to be his friends after coming to the UK from Slovakia, and has been supported by a Victim Navigator for more than a year now.

When his Navigator bought him some art supplies to take his mind off his situation, she was stunned by his incredible talents.

The exhibition that his work will feature in shares the viewpoints of survivors of modern slavery and will move around West Yorkshire in October and November.

Mike said: ‘It’s a beautiful feeling having my art displayed in an exhibition. I really didn’t know what to say [when I received the art supplies], because thank you is so very little. 

‘Not so long ago I received mail with acrylic paints and canvases. I have had no gift from anyone for many years. You can’t even imagine what I felt.’

Mike came to the UK with a couple, who he met in his hometown. Soon after they arrived, the unemployed pair began exploiting him, refusing him access to his bank account, taking loans out in his name and using his wages for rent and other things.

He was given £40 of ‘pocket money’ per week, despite working a full time job, and the couple stole his ID and stopped him from leaving their shared property.

Mike was assaulted by the male exploiter who left him with a head injury, while the son of the couple also attacked him multiple times.

After escaping from the house, Mike was left homeless. Following four weeks sleeping on a park bench, he asked his employer for help and the police were called. 

Once they knew they were being investigated by The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the two exploiters fled to Slovakia, meaning Mike has been unable to see justice served.

Mike, who has been supported by Justice and Care since 2022, has limited painting experience from years ago and has learned some of his skills from YouTube.

His Navigator has described him as a kind, creative and spiritual individual who finds peace in his art – which is inspired by happy memories, including his time in the Amazon rainforest.

Unfortunately, Mike is not currently painting because he struggles to find peace in the hostel he is living in as he starts to rebuild his life. He hopes to start again soon and aspires to have his own exhibition one day.

He said: ’For me to start painting the way I used to, I need the calmness of my soul and calmness in the environment, but where I live there is no calmness. Painting comes from the soul, if I feel my soul is not calm, obviously this affects my pictures.

‘I will carry on painting, assuming I’ve got this ideal atmosphere, and I do hope in the future I can have my own exhibition. But even if I don’t, I’m happy just to carry on painting just for my own happiness. Not just for me, for others too.’

The exhibition in West Yorkshire will take place between the 16th October and 19th November 2023. More information can be found here.

*name changed to protect identity