Banksy Floats Raft at Glastonbury to Warn of Worsening Migrant Crisis

A Banksy artwork consisting of an inflatable life raft with prop passengers made a sneaky debut in the middle of a concert set by British punk rock band Idles at the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts on Friday, June 28. Footage taken by concertgoers and photos posted to social media showed thousands of audience members hoisting the raft overhead in crowd-surfing fashion during the band’s performance of their pro-immigrant song “Danny Nedelko” (2018).

Seating what appeared to be eight dummy passengers dressed in orange life jackets, the life raft clearly resembled those used by refugees traveling from countries in North Africa and Southwest Asia in order to cross the English Channel en route to the United Kingdom. In 2023, more than 29,400 people reached the UK by traversing the channel’s choppy waters in small boats. The migrant crisis has gained widespread attention in the last decade amid recurring mass drownings in the Channel and the Mediterranean Sea. 

On Sunday, the anonymous street artist Banksy confirmed that they had released the raft into the crowd at Glastonbury Festival by posting a video clip of the event on Instagram.

While the prop migrant boat was one of the most widely publicized moments from the Idles concert set, it certainly wasn’t the only political messaging: The band also led thousands of audience members in a group chant of “Fuck the King!” and concluded their set with a call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The band told the Guardian that they had no knowledge of the life raft stunt until after the set had finished. The boat was also later seen during rapper Little Simz’s set on Saturday.

The raft appeared to have a divisive reception on social media, as X users argued over whether the artwork was a brilliant commentary or offensive to the experiences of asylum seekers the latter view expressed by conservative politician James Cleverly in a Sky News interview in which he called the raft “vile” and pledged to prosecute criminal gangs and “people smugglers.”

In recent years, the UK and European governments have introduced stronger border enforcement measures and anti-immigration policies to deter refugees from embarking on these perilous journeys. To this effect, in April the UK parliament passed controversial legislation to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda; hours later, five migrants died trying to cross the English Channel from France to Britain.

In 2020, Banksy financed a secret vessel to help assist North African refugees trying to reach Europe. Painted in vibrant pink with a Banksy original of a child holding a heart-shaped buoy, the boat rescued 89 people. Last year, Italian authorities detained the boat for violating Italian law regarding non-governmental rescue vessels.

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