This year alone, nearly 2,000 would-be migrants have died while making the perilous Mediterranean crossing to Europe. In the worst single incident in recent months, about 800 migrants of different nationalities drowned in late April off the Italian coast.
And as the Venice Biennale got underway this week, one artist chose to roll out a statement marking the ongoing disaster. "Lampedusa," by Brazilian visual artist Vik Muniz, is a 45-foot wooden boat covered with headlines related to migrant deaths near the shores of Lampedusa — the Italian isle near the coast of North Africa where many seek to land. He posted images from its debut on Tuesday on Instagram.
Muniz came up with the idea last year, after Italian authorities discontinued their "Mare Nostrum" program in October. The program was a vast search-and-rescue operation, as my colleague Adam Taylor describes, which is credited with saving as many as 130,000 lives.
But it was phased out. Rights groups blame the epidemic of fatal drownings on cynical human traffickers who exploit desperate people seeking a better life, as well as the widespread indifference of European governments and the publics they represent.
"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 in April.
And, sadly, Muniz was right: The day his "Lampedusa" launched, about 40 migrants were feared to have drowned off the coast of Sicily.