A Banksy-financed refugee rescue boat saved 89 people in distress, including 14 women and four children in the Central Mediterranean on Thursday. The Guardian reports that the vessel, named Louise Michel, set off in secrecy from a Spanish port last week, decorated with bright pink paint and an illustration of a girl in a life vest holding a heart-shaped safety buoy, designed by the elusive British artist.
Banksy has long been concerned with the plight of refugees making the dangerous boat journey from North Africa to Europe. This year alone, more than 500 refugees and migrants are known to have died in the Mediterranean sea. The Guardian reports that on Wednesday, 45 people died when the engine on their boat exploded off Libya. Meanwhile, Migration estimates that 7,600 migrants have been intercepted so far this year and returned to war-torn Libya, where systematic torture and rape are prevalent in its informal camps.
The artist's involvement in the rescue program is purely financial, though. “Banksy won’t pretend that he knows better than us how to run a ship, and we won’t pretend to be artists,” explains the ship's captain, Pia Klemp. The ship's 10 person crew identify as anti-racist and anti-fascist activists, and only female crew members are allowed to speak in the name of the Louise Michel.
The crew reportedly feared that revealing Banksy's financial involvement would bring media attention that might compromise their rescue mission. Artist and activists, therefore, agreed to release the news about the boat after carrying out the first rescue. But they now hope that Banksy's fame might bring focus to the wider crisis. Activist Claire Faggianelli explained “We really want to try to awaken the consciousness of Europe and say: ‘Look, we have been yelling at you for years now. There is something that shouldn’t be happening at the very borders of Europe, and you close your eyes to it. Wake up!’”
Banksy has sounded the alarm through his work for some time now. Below, we've highlighted some of his most significant works about the migrant crisis.
Mediterranean Sea View 2017
Earlier this year, a Banksy triptych of a Mediterranean shipwreck sold at a recent Sotheby’s auction for $2.9 million. “We’re often led to believe migration is a drain on the country’s resources, but Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant,” he said of the artwork. “Apple is the world’s most profitable company… and it only exists because they allowed in a young man from Homs.” The artist donated the proceeds from the sale to a hospital in Bethlehem.
Migrant Child in Venice Mural, 2019
Last year, a new mural by Banksy surfaced in Venice during the Venice Biennale art show. Located in the Dorsoduro district, the stenciled mural depicts a young migrant child wearing a life jacket and holding a pink flare, once again calling attention to the global refugee crisis.
How heavy it weighs, 2015
In 2018, Banksy announced he would be raffling a giant sculpture of a boat that featured in his Dismaland theme park. Proceeds went to Choose Love, the world’s first store where you can buy real gifts for refugees, including practical items like tents, diapers and sleeping bags.
Steve Jobs Mural in Syrian Refugee Camp, 2015
Back in 2015, Bansky affirmed his standpoint on refugees, painting a picture of the late Steve Jobs — who was the son of a Syrian migrant — on a wall located in a refugee camp in Calais, France. The artwork highlights Jobs holding a computer and a black bag.
How societies manage migration is a complex issue but you can help the crew of the Louise Michel rescue anyone in peril without prejudice by donating here.