Banksy and the migrant crisis

The ever-elusive Banksy has funded a search-and-rescue boat to aid refugees from north Africa attempting to enter Europe. The boat has reportedly rescued over 200 people and taken on board numerous bodies of refugees who sadly did not survive the journey, after being launched in secret from Burriana in Spain on August 18th.

The bright pink boat is adorned with a work in Banksy’s idiosyncratic street-style depicting a young girl clutching a heart-shaped buoyancy aid. The ship is said to be led by a crew of professionals with a “flat hierarchy and a vegan diet”.

According to data published by the UN, in 2020, 495 people who have attempted to enter Europe from north Africa are dead or missing. In Banksy’s team’s mission statement, the crew said they intended to respond to SOS calls from refugees, “not just to save their souls, but our own”.

On August 29th, the ship’s crew took to Twitter in haste as the ratio of crew members to rescued migrants was becoming unsustainable, and they were essentially stranded. They asked for “immediate assistance” and it was later reported that the Italian coastguard had taken 49 of the most vulnerable aboard, and later SeaWatch4 went to the ship’s aid to collect the remaining passengers.

The migrant crisis in Europe is a theme in numerous of Banksy’s works, and the artist is no stranger to politically motivated acts, often auctioning his works for charitable causes. Earlier this year, Banksy auctioned three paintings, the subjects of which were displaced persons and the migrant crisis, in order to raise money for a Bethlehem hospital. In Banksy’s triptych, Mediterranean Sea View 2017, the artist took three 19th-century oil seascapes, to which he added life vests and floatation devices, swirling in the stormy waters. The pieces sold for a total £2.2 million, which Banksy is donating to building a new stroke unit and funding children’s rehabilitation equipment at the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation.

Some of Banksy’s other works on the migrant crisis include his Son of a Migrant, a portrait of Steve Jobs, who himself was the son of a Syrian migrant, which the artist left at the Calais Jungle. At his infamous site Dismaland, Banksy also produced an installation of a boat filled with migrants, and upon the site’s deconstruction he donated the structural materials from Dismaland to the Calais Jungle for the site’s construction of shelters for refugees.

While Banksy’s auctions and rescue ship may not single handedly end the migrant crisis, his charitable acts and the high-profile nature of his works and philanthropy bring much-needed aid and awareness to the crisis.


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Bea Prutton

May 2021
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