Over the next week we’re partnering with Foolproof to create poems and art works on the theme of human trafficking.
Art from a shipwreck
In 2015 the British Museum acquired a simple yellow and blue cross made from pieces of wood salvaged from a shipwreck. It is not an ornate object, and materially it has little value, yet the Lampedusa cross carries profound meaning and significance as an artefact of our times.
The ship that went down off the Italian island of Lampedusa on 11 October 2013 was carrying over 500 refugees, many of whom had fled persecution in Eritrea and Somalia. Only 151 people survived, and a local carpenter decided to give each one a cross as a symbol of hope. The cross now in the museum is not ornate. Made from peeling driftwood, its origins as part of the ill-fated boat are evident and yet, with its rough wood and worn paintwork, it carries a particular beauty by dint of its meaning.
The cross was the final acquisition for the Museum by its outgoing Director, Neil MacGregor. Asked to explain his choice, he said, “We have acquired many wonderful objects, from the grand to the humble, but all have sought to shine a light on the needs and hopes that all human beings share.”
All have sought to shine a light on the needs and hopes human beings share.
The Lampedusa cross shines a light on the extraordinary scale of global migration we are witnessing. It points out human fragility. It speaks of risk, of injustice and of hope. It also demonstrates the desire of the human heart to make meaning through creativity. The carpenter who made these simple crosses – Francesco Tuccio – was moved by the plight of what he had witnessed in the waters off his island, and frustrated by his inability to help. He realised what he did have was an ability to fashion something beautiful from the wreckage of the ship, and in so doing to provide a reflection on what had happened, and hope for the future of the survivors.
Human beings are creative because they are made in the image of a creative God, and beauty matters. Beauty and creativity can shine a light on the needs and hopes that human beings share. Meaningful creation can speak of justice, of hope and of the goodness of God in the darkest of situations. What we create – be it a poem, a song, an artwork or a simple driftwood cross – has significance in drawing attention to truth, justice and liberation.
So never be seduced into thinking that your creativity doesn’t matter. Never give into the lie that whispers ‘you’re not creative’. And don’t think that what you make doesn’t matter. Creativity matters.