The rescue ship Louise Michel. Courtesy Louise Michel.
The elusive artist Banksy has financed a boat to save refugees trying to get to Europe from north Africa. The ship, named Louise Michel after a French feminist anarchist, was launched in total secrecy from the Spanish seaport of Burriana on August 18th, and is now traveling in the central Mediterranean Sea. The ship rescued 89 refugees yesterday, including 14 women and four children, and is currently looking for a safe location to remove the passengers or to transfer them to a European coast guard boat.
The vessel, a former French Navy boat, is captained and crewed by a team of European activists and rescue professionals. The Louise Michel is painted with a vibrant pink and features a Banksy artwork: a painting of a child in a life vest reaching for a safety buoy in the shape of a heart. (The boat painting references Banky’s belovedGirl With Balloon image, a version of which shredded itself after selling at a Sotheby’s auction in 2018.)The boat was purchased with proceeds from the sale of Banksy artworks. The artist became involved with the rescue mission in September 2019,when he contacted Pia Klemp, the former captain of various non-governmental organization boats that have rescued thousands of refugees in recent years.
Banksy wrote to Klemp in an email quoted by The Guardian:
Hello Pia, I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass. I am an artist from the U.K. and I’ve made some work about the migrant crisis, obviously I can’t keep the money. Could you use it to buy a new boat or something? Please let me know. Well done. Banksy.
Banksy’s involvement with the operations of the ship are limited to providing financial support. As the artist mentioned in his email to Klemp, he has created several works centered around the European migrant crisis. In 2015, he created a mural of the late Apple founder Steve Jobs (the son of a Syrian migrant) at a refugee camp in Calais in northern France.
In July, he donated his 2017 triptych, Mediterranean sea view 2017, to Sotheby’s “Rembrandt to Richter” sale to raise funds for a hospital in Bethlehem. The work, which sold for £2.2 million ($2.8 million)—Banksy’s second-highest auction result to date—featured a 19th century style seascape, as well as abandoned lifejackets and buoys, in reference to the migrant crisis.