A stark cross, made from the wreckage of a boat that that sank in the Mediterranean in 2013, drowning hundreds of refugees, was the final acquisition made by the British Museum on Neil MacGregor's last day as Director, on Friday, 18 December.
The Lampedusa Cross is now on public display in Room 2. The cross was made by Mr Francesco Tuccio, a carpenter who lives and works on the island. It is made from parts of a boat that sank near Lampedusa on 3 October 2013, carrying refugees. 500 people were on board when the overcrowded boat caught fire, capsized and sank. Only 151 survived. Some of the survivors were Eritrean Christians, fleeing persecution in their home country. Mr Tuccio met some of them in his church of San Gerlando and frustrated by his inability to make any difference to their plight, he went and collected some of the timber from the wreckage and made each of them a cross to reflect their salvation and as a symbol of hope for the future.
On request Mr Tuccio also made a cross which was carried by Pope Francis at the memorial service for the survivors. The British Museum heard about the crosses and contacted Mr Tuccio to see if it could acquire one for the collection. Mr Tuccio made and donated this cross to the collection as a symbol of the suffering and hope of our times. When the museum thanked him he wrote: "it is I who should thank you for drawing attention to the burden symbolized by this small piece of wood."
In a statement, the Museum said: "It is essential that the Museummcontinues to collect objects that reflect contemporary culture in order to ensure the collection remainsm dynamic and reflects the world as it is. The Lampedusa disaster was one of the first examples of the terrible tragedies that have befallen refugees/migrants as they seek to cross from Africa into Europe. The cross allows the Museum to represent these events in a physical object so that in 10, 50,100 years' time this latest migration can be reflected in a collection which tells the stories of multiple migrations across millenia.
Neil MacGregor said: "This simple yet moving object is a poignant gift to the collection. Mr Tuccio's generosity will allow all visitors to the Museum to reflect on this significant moment in the history of Europe, a great migration which may change the way we understand our continent. In my time at the Museum 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 enabled the Museum tofulfil the purpose for which it was set up: to be a Museum of the world and for the world, now and well into the future."
MacGregor was Director of the British Museum from 1 August 2002 until 18 December 2015. Under his Directorship, visitors to the British Museum increased from 4.6million in 2003 (first full year) to 6.7million in 2015.
In addition to his work as Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor has made many programmes for British television and radio. In 2000, he presented on television Seeing Salvation, about how Jesus had been depicted in famous paintings. More recently, he has made important contributions on BBC Radio Four, including A History of the World in 100 Objects and, in 2012, a series of fifteen-minute programmes after The World at One called Shakespeare's Restless World, discussing themes in the plays of William Shakespeare.
MacGregor will now be the inaugural artistic director of the Humboldt Forum, a major new museum under construction in Berlin. In addition, he will be working on a BBC Radio Four series on Faith and Society.
Source: British Museum
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