Shire Hall Museum is the final venue on this UK wide tour from the British Museum, the first time the Lampedusa cross have been displayed across the country. Made from the remnants of a boat carrying refugees wrecked near the Italian island of Lampedusa, close to the coast of Tunisia, the cross carries poignant messages about kindness, community and the indifference faced by many refugees.

Alongside the cross will be a display of twelve tiny boats from Syrian-born Issam Kourbajʼs series Dark Water, Burning World, made from repurposed bicycle mudguards tightly packed with burnt matches to represent the fragile vessels used by refugees to make their perilous voyages across the Mediterranean.

Jill Cook, Curator at the British Museum, says: “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 artefact shaped by tragedy that symbolises those who have nothing and desperately seek to share in a better future. As such, it is touchingly complemented by Issam Koubraj’s little boats.”

In October 2013, an overcrowded boat carrying 466 migrants from Somalia and Eritrea caught fire, capsized and sank near Lampedusa’s coast. At that time, there was no official maritime rescue service. 311 lives, fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in Europe, were lost. Moved by the plight of survivors whom he met in his church, the island’s carpenter, Francesco Tuccio, made an individual cross for each person. Acting as a mark of the 155 survivors’ salvation from the sea and their hope for the future, the cross also reflects the fate of many migrants. Tuccio also made larger crosses that he gifted as a plea for discussion about community and responsibility – it is in this context that the British Museum acquired this cross in 2015, simply made from two pieces of brightly painted wood fitted together.

Inspired by Syrian antiquities depicting sea vessels that date from the 5th century BC, the boats convey the fear and exhaustion of the crossing, and the trepidatious uncertainty of survival. In utilising cheap and discarded materials that might otherwise go to waste as the basis for the artwork, Kourbaj represents the need for refugees to use what they can freely acquire following separation from their homeland, while urging the global community to find value in everything and everyone, no matter how humble their origins.

Nina Corey, Director of Shire Hall Museum, says: “Throughout history, people have set out on journeys across our world. Some are made by choice, others in hope and there are also journeys people have been forced to make. In this exhibition, we’re taking a closer look at the stories behind those journeys.

“Inspired by the incredible objects loaned to us by the British Museum, we wanted to explore our local history and the stories of people who travelled through or from Dorset. We were interested not just in the journeys that people made but the reasons and motivation behind them.”

Alongside the objects on loan from the British Museum, the exhibition will feature objects kindly loaned by Dorset History Centre and Portland Museum. From the 1872 wreckage of the Royal Adelaide and the thousands of people travelling through Blandford from across the world to penal transportation and forced migration overseas, the exhibition will explore the journeys people made and their impact throughout the world.

Crossings: community and refuge is at Shire Hall Museum from 2nd December 2022 until 26th February 2023. Entry to the exhibition is included with a Museum ticket.