Banksy’s latest artwork can be spotted on a vessel rescuing refugees from north Africa, who are attempting to cross the Mediterranean to find safety in Europe. The anonymous British artist, whose work we’ve talked about extensively, used the proceeds from the sale of an artwork to purchase a former French Navy boat, which is named after anarchist Louise Michel. With a fire extinguisher, Banksy sprayed the exterior with pink paint and adorned it with a version of the iconic “Girl with Balloon.” This iteration outfits the child with a lifevest and swaps the red heart with a pink flotation device.
The project was conceived of in September 2019 when Banksy contacted Pia Klemp, who led several missions with NGO boats to rescue refugees. “Hello Pia, I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass. I am an artist from the UK 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,” the artist wrote, according to The Guardian.
Now, Klemp and a professional rescue team helm the 31-meter lifeboat, which already has brought aboard hundreds of refugees. Capable of at least 27 knots, the boat is faster than most ships, allowing it to reach people faster and “hopefully outrun the so-called Libyan coastguard,” Klemp says. The project’s mission is explained on its site:
It might seem incredible there is need for a homemade emergency vehicle in one of Europe’s busiest waterways, but there is. The migrant crisis means that European states are instructing their Coastguard not to answer distress calls from ‘non-Europeans’ leaving desperate people to drift helplessly at sea. To make matters worse authorities prevent other boats from providing assistance, arresting crews and impounding boats that do.
This past weekend, the Italian Coast Guard responded to distress calls from the vessel after it became overloaded with passengers, at one point carrying 219 refugees and 10 crew members on the main ship, with 33 people still in rafts floating alongside. The agency evacuated 49 migrants along with the boat Sea-Watch 4, which brought aboard another 150.