Banksy on the Side of Migrants

The theme of migrants hit Italy very toughly in the 2010s. During the Venice Biennale in 2019, Banksy realized the famous Migrant Child on the island of Dorsoduro. In this work, we see a child wearing a lifejacket and holding a pink flare. When there’s high tide, the child seems about to drown.

This graffiti especially recalls that among refugees there are lots of children. They are all escaping from wars and impossible life conditions. You just cannot look at them drowning next to you! The work is still well visible in Venice.

Anti-immigration birds gave us a simple though effective message. This piece appeared in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, UK, in 2014. It showed four gray pigeons holding signs reading “Migrants not welcome,” “Go back to Africa” and “Keep off our worms,” while a more exotic-looking, green bird looked on and kept itself at distance on the same wire.

The witty graffiti makes us think about nature and human beings. No bird, in reality, would ever exclude another because of migration. This is part of their lives, part of being birds on this planet. Banksy would probably suggest that the situation should be exactly the same for people, i.e., migration and immigration have always been everyday life; lots of people are always moving to other places. Instead, people often refuse to welcome new arrivals and even accuse them, like these humanized birds.

The local council removed the mural a few hours after appearance, even before Banksy could announce it on his website. Destruction took place because of a complaint the work was racist. And it effectively was, but with the purpose of being satirical and disturbing.

Banksy made the most significative act in favor of migrants in 2020. He acquired a former French Navy vessel, named Louise Michel after a French feminist anarchist. Then, he wrote to Pia Klemp, a Sea Watch captain whose ship had been impounded by Italian authorities, and offered her this new rescue boat. She accepted and assembled a team of ten activists. Sailing on the Louise Michel, they rescued 89 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean Sea. Then, they encountered another ship with 130 migrants, who joined the group. With more passengers than it could handle, the boat issued a distress call and ultimately all escapees landed in Italy.

The Louise Michel is like no other boat. Firstly, Banksy painted it before donating it. The vessel has wide pink areas and a large “RESCUE” logo. Moreover, the artist also stenciled one of his graffiti designs on the exterior. It represents a black-and-white girl in a life vest, reaching for a pink heart-shaped safety buoy. Secondly, the ship reaches a top speed of 27 knots, high enough to outrun the majority of the authorities’ boats.

After the mission, Banksy posted a video to Instagram in which he signaled that often “EU authorities deliberately ignore distress calls from ‘non-Europeans.’” With this action, he probably wanted to use his fame to shed light on one of the greatest humanitarian issues of the 21st century.

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