Update, 08/30/20, 8:42am EDT: It is being reported by Reuters and others that the Banksy boat has issued calls for help as the boat was overloaded and stranded in the Mediterranean.
Banksy, the anonymous graffiti artist known for his surreptitious interventions in urban spaces, has struck again. This time, however, the work is not a mural or a stenciled subway car, but a migrant rescue boat that has already helped 89 refugees crossing the Mediterranean.
The artist bought the bright pink motor yacht with proceeds from the sale of his artwork in order to rescue migrants making the perilous passage to Europe from north Africa — a risky endeavor that accounts for thousands of deaths each year. According to the Guardian, the boat set sail from the Spanish seaport of Burriana on August 18 and is now searching for a safe seaport to disembark its passengers.
Named after Louise Michel, the 19th century French feminist and anarchist, the boat features elements of Banksy’s idiosyncratic visual language, added by the artist using a fire extinguisher. A painting of a girl in a life vest holding a heart-shaped flotation device recalls the famous “Girl with Balloon” murals that he has reproduced over the years, including in 2014 in commemoration of the Syrian civil war.
The refugee crisis has been a prominent theme of Banksy’s work. Last month, the artist donated the proceeds from sales of a triptych depicting life jackets and buoys floating on the Mediterranean sea to the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation, a hospital in the West Bank.
In September 2019, Banksy reached out to human rights activist Pia Klemp, a ship captain for the German NGO Sea-Watch that works on rescue missions in the Mediterranean. “I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass,” Banksy reportedly wrote to Klemp. “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.”
The 102-foot-long yacht was previously owned by French customs authorities and customized to perform search and rescue, according to the project’s website. As “agile as she is pink,” the Louise Michel hopes to outrun the Libyan coastguard, which regularly captures migrants at sea and takes them to detention camps in Libya. In the overflowing, under-resourced refugee camps, migrants face poor sanitary conditions and even torture and rape; the International Organization for Migration reports that more than 7,600 migrants have been returned to Libya this year.