Sometimes art and life converge in miraculous ways. That happened last week in the Mediterranean, where drifting migrants were rescued by a cargo ship plastered with an image by French artist JR, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The container carrier had been heading back to France from Malaysia when its crew answered a distress call alerting them to a boat carrying 213 refugees lost at sea. They included migrants from Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Sudan, and Somalia, who had boarded a Libyan fishing boat in the hopes of reaching Greece. The carrier’s crew cared for the refugees for two days, feeding them and offering their cabins to the women and children. Once they reached the Italian port of Taranto, they handed them over to authorities. Thousands of migrants arrive in Europe by boat every year; in 2014 alone, 3,000 people died trying, according to Amnesty International.
On the carrier, JR had wrapped over 150 containers with black-and-white paper stretching the length of the vessel; collectively they formed the eyes of a Kenyan woman. The piece was part of his Women Are Heroes series, which highlights the violence women face in wartime. By the time the migrants saw the work, it had traveled from France to Malta, Morocco, and Malaysia, and was likely already deteriorated by the elements.
JR was stunned when he heard the news, as he had just returned from the coastal Italian islands of Lampedusa and Sicily, where he was beginning work on a project about undocumented migrants.
“I was starting an art project on immigrants and another art work of mine was already connecting with it in the middle of the ocean,” he told the Journal. “I will do something on undocumented immigrants, I still don’t know exactly how.”
He had also recently finished a site-specific installation in the abandoned immigration hospital on Ellis Island. JR’s own parents settled in France after leaving their homes in North Africa and Eastern Europe.