DEBUNKED

No, this moving installation about migration was not displayed on the island of Lampedusa

This photo has been circulating online since early July 2022 with a misleading caption.
This photo has been circulating online since early July 2022 with a misleading caption. © The Observers

A photo has been circulating on Facebook since early July showing an art installation that the caption claims was displayed on the Italian island of Lampedusa.  However, it turns out, this photo actually shows an art installation created in Michigan in 2013 using migrants' belongings found on the border between the United States and Mexico. It has circulated online at various points over the past few years and is often accompanied by a misleading caption. 

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  • Since early July, several Facebook accounts have shared a photo showing an art installation supposedly taken on the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is a well-known landing point for migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean and travel to Europe.

  • However, this image has been circulating online for several years and is often accompanied by the same misleading caption. 

  • In reality, the photo actually shows an art installation created in 2013 in the United States. While the installation does highlight the dangers of migration, the exhibit doesn’t actually have any links to the island of Lampedusa. It was made up of belongings found on the border between the United States and Mexico. 

The fact-check in detail 

The number of people making attempts to cross the Mediterranean from Libya or Tunisia to Italy, and, thus, Europe, has been on the rise since early June. More than a thousand migrants arrived in Italy on the weekend of July 23 and 24 alone, while hundreds of others, who were rescued at sea, were waiting on humanitarian boats for a port to agree to receive them, NGOs and authorities reported on Sunday. There are currently nearly 1,600 people at the reception centre for migrants on Lampedusa, even though its capacity is about 350. There have been a number of social media posts circulating denouncing the situation. However, even though some of the photos are real, some accounts have been sharing erroneous information. 

One example is a series of posts that feature a photo of a wall covered with backpacks. According to the accounts that shared these images, it is an art installation made from the belongings of people who lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean. The installation was supposedly on display in Lampedusa. 

This is a screengrab of a Facebook post from July 3, 2022 sharing this image with a caption containing erroneous information. The caption, in French, reads: “The bags of immigrants who died at sea, which were gathered and displayed in an Italian museum on the island of Lampedusa. Written on [the installation] was ‘each bag has a story.’ Sad.”
This is a screengrab of a Facebook post from July 3, 2022 sharing this image with a caption containing erroneous information. The caption, in French, reads: “The bags of immigrants who died at sea, which were gathered and displayed in an Italian museum on the island of Lampedusa. Written on [the installation] was ‘each bag has a story.’ Sad.” © University of Michigan

To find out the origins of this photo, our team ran it through a reverse image search (click here to find out how). On the Bing and Yandex search engines, we were able to find this photo on the site of the University of Michigan, where it was published on February 8, 2017. The site explains that the wall covered with backpacks is an art installation part of an exhibit called “State of Exception” created by artists Richard Barnes and Amanda Krugliak.

This is a screengrab of a photo published on February 8, 2017 on the website of the University of Michigan.
This is a screengrab of a photo published on February 8, 2017 on the website of the University of Michigan. © University of Michigan

Our team ran a Google search using the keywords “State of Exception Barnes Krugliak” and pulled up several articles about this exhibit. The articles, as well as the exhibit brochure, informed us that the work was created in 2013 at the University of  Michigan. It was then put on display in several American galleries, for example one in New York in February 2017

In summary, this wall covered with backpacks is an art installation made up of hundreds of belongings found near the border between the United States and Mexico that belonged to migrants attempting to enter the United States. 

While this impressive art installation does make a statement about the dangers facing those who migrate, it does not have any connection to the island of Lampedusa. That said, a museum in Italy did display another installation in 2019 made up of objects retrieved from the boats carrying migrants across the Mediterranean.