Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz has built a 45-foot-long boat covered in fragments of news articles in order to raise awareness about the hundreds of migrants who have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
Muniz came up with the idea for the massive art piece in late November, after Italy decided to phase out a huge search-and-rescue operation for migrants crossing the Mediterranean and the European Union chose not to fully replace it. His art installation, which launches early next month in Venice, Italy, follows a string of deadly accidents at sea in recent weeks.
"I thought, 'they're cooling their efforts to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean', so I want to remind people of the tragedies that happened and that could happen again," Muniz told BuzzFeed News, referring to the European Union's response to the crisis.
The boat will be shown at the Venice Biennale, one of the world's most famous art events, which starts in early May. Here's a mock-up of what it will look like when Muniz launches it on May 5.
The installation is a custom-made wooden boat, shaped like a classic folded paper boat, that has been covered in fragments of migrant shipwreck news coverage. The boat has been named Lampedusa, after the southern Italian island where many migrants land.
The boat will appear in various locations around Venice until September, often docked alongside the city's playboy yachts. Italy is the most popular landing point for the migrants crossing the Mediterranean because of its proximity to north Africa.
The Mediterranean crossing claimed over 3,500 lives last year, and has already claimed more than 1,700 lives so far this year. It's often called the world’s deadliest migrant journey.
This year is on pace to set records, both in terms of the number of people attempting the crossing and the number of people dying when the overcrowded and rickety boats capsize, creating intense pressure on the EU to respond. The bloc announced on Thursday it would triple its funding for rescue operations but critics say the effort still doesn't match Italy's former program, Reuters reported.
The flow of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean has increased since the 2011 Arab Spring, a series of pro-democracy public protests that rocked countries across the Middle East and north Africa. In 2014, most of the migrants were coming from Syria and Eritrea.
The symbol of the paper boat was also used in a rally in front of the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday.
Muniz, who was an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. for a decade after he left Brazil in 1982, hopes to hold an art auction later this year to raise money for an Italian charity working with newly arrived migrants.
"I've been there – I had to go to the grind, you know, do jobs that paid under minimum wage. I worked as a cleaner and at a gas station," Muniz said. "Somehow I pushed through all of this and I became an asset to the country, and I also became a citizen of the country."