A cross built from the remains of a refugee boat that capsized in the Mediterranean will tour English museums and galleries later this year in a bid to encourage the debate on migration.
The artwork was produced by a carpenter on the Italian island of Lampedusa near Tunisia. It was acquired by the British Museum five years ago.
The cross will be loaned by the museum to galleries in Manchester, Hastings, Derby, Ipswich, Bristol and Rochester.
Exhibitions in which the cross is featured will also contain the work of Syrian-born artist Issam Kourbaj, whose series “Dark Water, Burning World” contains 12 miniature boats filled with burnt matches to represent migrants.
The cross was constructed in the wake of the Mediterranean tragedy in 2013. A vessel carrying 466 people from Somalia and Eritrea caught fire, capsized and sank near Lampedusa.
Of those on board the ship, 311 people drowned. Residents on the nearby island fed and clothed the survivors, who were housed in a local church.
Francesco Tuccio made crosses from the resulting wreckage for each of the 155 survivors, on top of several larger pieces.
Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said: “The wood of the cross is a reminder of the passage, not only of these vulnerable refugees who staked everything on the boats being able to safely transport them, but of the human beings throughout history who have sought refuge on similar perilous journeys.
“I hope visitors around the UK will connect with the poignancy of the cross and will be able to reflect upon the ongoing disruption, upheaval and hope that it symbolizes.”
Jill Cook, curator of the exhibition, said: “The Lampedusa Cross reminds us of all the histories that are lost, and of the thousands of people who are not otherwise remembered. 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 artifact shaped by tragedy that symbolizes those who have nothing and desperately seek to share in a better future.”
Kourbaj said Syrians who cross into Europe in boats are “desperate to escape” the violence of their home country.
He added that his work “reflects the trauma that those women, children and men carry with them, while water-like resin holds these burnt matches together, just as we all bond, hold and support each other in desperate times.”