Refugees’ Lampedusa Cross to tour

The moving Lampedusa Cross, created out of the remains of a refugee boat wrecked in 2013 and acquired by the British Museum, is to go on tour for the first time.

It is one of a series made from the wreck by an Italian carpenter Francesco Tuccio following the tragedy in October 2013 when a small brightly painted wooden boat carrying 466 migrants from Somalia and Eritrea caught fire and sank off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, and 311 died. Tuccio gave the crosses away to encourage public debate about community and responsibility, and one was acquired by the British Museum, the last acquisition of the retiring director, Neil Macgregor, in 2015.

"This simple yet moving object is a poignant gift to the collection" MacGregor said then. "Mr Tuccio's generosity will allow all visitors to the museum to reflect on this significant moment in the history of Europe, a great migration which may change the way we understand our continent.”

Now the cross is to be seen by a much wider audience, touring with a display of 12 tiny boats made by the Syrian-born artist Issam Kourbaj. The series Dark Water, Burning World, made from repurposed bicycle mudguards tightly packed with burnt matches, represents the fragile vessels used by Syrian refugees to make their perilous voyages across the Mediterranean.

They will comprise the museum’s new Spotlight Loan, Crossings: community and refuge, marking the tenth anniversary of the Syrian civil war, which falls today (March 15). It will be seen first at Coventry Cathedral in May as one of the City of Culture events and then travel to venues in Manchester, Hastings, Derby, Ipswich, Bristol and Rochester until November 2022.

“The Lampedusa Cross reminds us of all the histories that are lost and of the thousands of people who are not otherwise remembered” said the exhibit’s curator Jill Cook. “The wood with its paint blistered by the sun and smelling of salt, sea, and suffering embodies a crisis of our times, as well as hope. The cross invites discussion of the varied reactions to one of the great tragedies of our time. It is an artefact shaped by tragedy that symbolizes those who have nothing and desperately seek to share in a better future. As such, it is touchingly complemented by Issam Koubraj’s little boats.”

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