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A 20' Inflatable Refugee Sails the Danish Coast

This floating intervention is sailing through port towns around the world to help draw attention to the European migrant crisis.

by Nathaniel Ainley
24 May 2016, 3:45pm

Inflatable Refugee, Venice, Italy, November 2015. Photos by by Dirk Kinot, courtesy Schellekens & Peleman

A 20-foot tall sculpture, Inflatable Refugee, is to set sail around the world as part of a nomadic art project aimed at drawing attention to the European refugee crisis. Belgian visual artist collective Schellekens & Peleman are behind the touring artwork, which features a massive adult male wearing a lifejacket and blue jeans, hugging his knees in the fetal position. This a direct reference to the thousands of refugees who have been forced to flee their homes on dangerously overcrowded ships.

This interpretation is underscored in the project’s description, which notes that the inflatable sculpture is made from the same material used to make the inflatable boats commonly used by human traffickers to cross the Mediterranean Sea. According to the artists, the inflatable man was enlarged in proportion to the Western world’s reaction to the influx of refugees in 2015. As the Inflatable Refugee description states, the project is determined to shed light on the dehumanization of the refugee in recent years and “invite the audience to reflect on geopolitical evolutions, migration and identity.”

​​Inflatable Refugee, Venice, Italy, November 2015. Photo by Dirk Knot

Inflatable Refugee will run in conjunction with the artist collective’s corresponding Moving Stories project. In each town, Schellekens & Peleman works to put local refugees in touch with those living nearby. The artists invite resident refugees to write an open letter to the citizens of their adoptive home. Those letters are then printed and copied as many times as there are nationalities. For example, 166 copies of each letter were printed in Antwerp, as there are 166 registered nationalities there. The letters are then taken and posted in mailboxes at random with a postcard that enables the receiver to get in touch with the author.  

Schellekens & Peleman will sail their interventionist art piece on a tour around the Danish coast on the 23rd and 24th of May, starting their journey in Helsingor, heading over to Copenhagen, and ending up in Kastrup. The Inflatable Refugee was unveiled in Venice late last year and has since then traveled through Antwerp and Uppsala, with plans to go on to Rotterdam and Melbourne.

Check out a video of the Inflatable Refugee in Venice below:

To learn more about the Inflatable Refugee project, head over to Schellekens & Peleman’s website, here. Get involved in the Moving Stories correspondence project on its website, here.

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