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The Memorials of a human tragedy

On certain days, there are a dozen. On other days, hundreds of people. For years and more and more frequently, we have been receiving news about refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. It is estimated that some ten thousand refugees have died during the last 20 years. We are quick to forget the news. But the refugee graves in the Sicilian cemeteries will remain for a long time to come. Nowhere is death as common as at the coasts of the island in Southern Italy.  It makes a difference whether we read the numbers of the dead or whether we physically stand at their graves.  It makes a difference to see the photographs of those who departed their homelands with the hope for a better future. To see the images of children who died on their flight to Europe. Or to realize that at the end of a life, all that remains is but a number on the grave.  For the first time, the art installation „Lampedusa 361“ displays photographs of the memorials commemorating one of the big tragedies in recent human history.

„Can you take in refugees?“ Officials in many European communities are confronted with this quest. In Siciliy, however, the question does not always refer to living migrants. The bodies of drowned refugees are laid to rest all over the country, since some cemeteries on Lampedusa have been crowded. In some cemeteries, like in Catania, there are a hundred refugee graves. Some mountain villages might hold only two. There is a sign at a grave field in Pretalia Sottano quoting the local mayor: „The blank numbers, which cast over the names that the Sea has swallowed, should not be the source for a fleeting shock, but a plea to human conscience that we may start forming a new humanity.“ Italy has been confronted with the refugee drama more and much longer than other European countries. Sicilian communities are restoring the dignity of the victims of this human tragedy as they bury them in their cemeteries.

That some refugee burial grounds resemble those of nameless soldiers who died in past wars is not incidental. Long rows of always identical tombstones, identical grave ledgers, identical inscriptions. In Santa Croce, the little available information about the dead refugees is inscribed unto small plates and attached to iron crosses. The plates evoke images of the identification marks soldiers carry along in order to be recognized in case of their death. They are the contemporary war graves.

The art installation „Lampedusa 361“ unites photographs of refugee graves dispersed all over the island. It seeks to give a glimpse of the true scale of the tragedy. 90 pictures were printed unto large-size floor mats and arranged in a way that they resemble an imaginary cemetery.

Heidrun Hannusch came up with the idea „Lampedusa 361“. She went on a months-long research tour all throughout Siciliy, visiting the refugee graves. She developed the concept, directed the project, and wrote 90 texts for the photo floor mats of the graves.

The photographers Carsten Sander and Oliver Killig took pictures of Sicilian refugee graves. Carsten Sander proposed to have the pictures printed on floor mats and to arrange them like an imaginary  cemetery.

The art installation „Lampedusa 361“ and the photographs were developed as a project of and commissioned by the organization „Friends of Dresden Deutschland“ prior to the Peace Price „Dresden Price“ 2017  being awarded to Domenico Lucano (Riace/Italy) and Amalia and Guiseppe Gelardi (Agrigent/Italy). The installation was generously supported by the City of Dresden and the Klaus Tschira Foundation.