Engaging audiences in questions of identity, belonging and sharing our world, A British Museum Spotlight Loan Crossings: community and refuge will tour the Lampedusa cross together with poignant boat artwork around the UK for the first time.
Made from the remnants of a refugee boat wrecked near the Italian island of Lampedusa, the cross carries messages about kindness, community and the indifference faced by many refugees. In October 2013, an overcrowded boat carrying migrants from Somalia and Eritrea caught fire, capsized and sank near Lampedusa, close to the coast of Tunisia. 311 lives, fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in Europe, were lost. Moved by the plight of survivors, the island's carpenter, Francesco Tuccio, made crosses from the wreckage. These signified salvation from the sea, hope for the future and as well as the sad fate of many migrants.
Alongside the cross will be a display of 12 tiny boats from Syrian-born Issam Kourbaj's series Dark Water, Burning World. Made from repurposed bicycle mudguards tightly packed with burnt matches, the artwork represents the fragile vessels used by refugees to make their perilous voyages as a response to the ongoing tragedy in Syria. The boats convey the fear and exhaustion of the crossing, and the trepidatious uncertainty of survival. In utilising cheap and discarded materials that might otherwise go to waste as the basis for the artwork, Kourbaj represents the need for refugees to use what they can freely acquire following separation from their homeland, while urging the global community to find value in everything and everyone, no matter how humble their origins.
The Lampedusa disaster was one of the first examples of the European migrant crisis and the terrible tragedies that have befallen refugees and migrants as they seek to cross from unstable regions in Africa and the Middle East into Europe. It marks an extraordinary moment in European history and stands witness to the kindness of the people of Lampedusa and as a reference to the ongoing migrant plight today.
The tour will touch on the ethical and practical challenges presented by mass movements of people, and on how Europe has recently responded to refugees and migrants. The Lampedusa cross will be displayed in Coventry and then the Spotlight Loan will tour to venues in Manchester, Hastings, Derby, Ipswich, Bristol, Rochester and Dorchester from May 2021 – February 2023 as part of the British Museum's National Programmes, bringing objects from the Museum to audiences around the UK for free.