Banksy Funds a Boat to Rescue Refugees at Sea–and Soon It Finds Itself in Distress in the Mediterranean

“Like most peo­ple who make it in the art world, I bought a yacht to cruise the Med,” Banksy wrote on Insta­gram when intro­duc­ing the Louise Michel, a ves­sel tasked with a some­what dif­fer­ent mis­sion than an arriv­iste par­ty boat: pick­ing up refugees from coun­tries like Libya and Turkey lost at sea. Any­one who’s fol­lowed Banksy’s art career knows he pos­sess­es a well-devel­oped instinct for catch­ing and keep­ing pub­lic atten­tion, and it has hard­ly desert­ed him in this ven­ture. Why spon­sor a refugee res­cue boat, after all, when you can spon­sor a bright pink fem­i­nist refugee res­cue boat, embla­zoned with a piece of orig­i­nal art?

Despite hav­ing been named for the 19th-cen­tu­ry fem­i­nist anar­chist Louise Michel, the motor yacht’s oper­a­tions encom­pass an even wider vari­ety of caus­es: The Guardian’s Loren­zo Ton­do and Mau­rice Stierl quote “Lea Reis­ner, a nurse and head of mis­sion for the first res­cue oper­a­tion,” say­ing that the project is also “meant to bring togeth­er a vari­ety of strug­gles for social jus­tice, includ­ing for women’s and LGBTIQ rights, racial equal­i­ty, migrants’ rights, envi­ron­men­tal­ism and ani­mal rights.” This mul­ti­di­rec­tion­al activism would seem to suit the artis­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty of Banksy, whose work strikes out in as many crit­i­cal direc­tions as both his admir­ers and detrac­tors can inter­pret.

The Louise Michel, as Ton­do and Stierl report­ed last Thurs­day, “set off in secre­cy on 18 August from the Span­ish sea­port of Bur­ri­ana, near Valen­cia, and is now in the cen­tral Mediter­ranean where on Thurs­day it res­cued 89 peo­ple in dis­tress, includ­ing 14 women and four chil­dren.” After pick­ing up the first group of refugees, reports the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Miri­am Berg­er, “it then encoun­tered a ship trav­el­ing from North Africa to Europe with 130 peo­ple aboard and some bod­ies of peo­ple who had died dur­ing the jour­ney,” and as a result “quick­ly became over­crowd­ed and could not prop­er­ly steer, its Twit­ter posts said.” All this hap­pened “at sea around 55 miles south­east of Lampe­dusa, an Ital­ian island off the North African coast that has become a migra­tion tran­sit point.”

Hours lat­er two oth­er ves­sels, one oper­at­ed by the Ital­ian coast guard and one by a Ger­man non­govern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tion, came to take on pas­sen­gers. Though hard­ly smooth sail­ing, the Louise Michel’s first res­cue mis­sion pro­ceed­ed more favor­ably than some: “A ves­sel named the Talia, which res­cued 52 peo­ple almost two months ago, was­n’t allowed into the port for 5 days,” says Dazed. “Now, a boat named the Eti­enne is in the longest record stand-off between author­i­ties and res­cuers ever, hav­ing spent three weeks at sea being denied dis­em­barka­tion in Mal­ta.” Banksy pub­li­cized the Louise Michel, which he spon­sors with­out involve­ment in its oper­a­tions, only after it had set sail. But for any­one with an inter­est in show­ing the world the dire cir­cum­stances of refugees today, the high­ly vis­i­ble boat’s high­ly vis­i­ble dif­fi­cul­ties cer­tain­ly aren’t bad pub­lic­i­ty.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Banksy Strikes Again in Venice

Banksy Strikes Again in Lon­don & Urges Every­one to Wear Masks

Banksy Debuts His COVID-19 Art Project: Good to See That He Has TP at Home

Watch Dis­ma­land — The Offi­cial Unof­fi­cial Film, A Cin­e­mat­ic Jour­ney Through Banksy’s Apoc­a­lyp­tic Theme Park

Banksy Shreds His $1.4 Mil­lion Paint­ing at Auc­tion, Tak­ing a Tra­di­tion of Artists Destroy­ing Art to New Heights

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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