On the night of 18 April 2015, about 180 kilometres from the Italian island of Lampedusa, a fishing boat capsized with hundreds of migrants on board. Among the waves and beneath the ship’s 23-metre hull, 700 passengers who had dreamed of a better life drowned in the waters of the Mediterranean.
Last week that giant, rusty vessel arrived in Venice on the occasion of the city’s Biennale art festival, where it went on display on Saturday in an installation designed by the artist Christoph Büchel.
Criticism quickly followed the wreck’s arrival, most prominently from the extreme rightwing League party, whose leader – Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister – has closed Italian ports to migrant rescue ships. For the League, all of this is “political propaganda” and a “manipulation”. It has proposed that the Biennale should transfer the wreck to Switzerland, Büchel’s homeland.
The physical presence of the boat, she says, might help change that. She hopes visitors to the Biennale “feel respect for it and look at it in silence – just give two minutes of silence to listen and reflect”.