Discarded life jackets on a beach in Greece inspired artwork by a teenager who wanted to learn more about the refugee crisis.
Achilleas Souras, the 17-year-old creator of the artwork, titled SOS: Save Our Souls, hopes his project prompts others to learn as well.
Souras was 15 and living in Barcelona when the flood of refugees from places that include the Middle East and Africa landed on the beaches of Lesbos, Greece, and created a humanitarian crisis.
The idea for the project came to him after he learned about the crisis in school.
Souras reached out to the mayor of Lesbos, the first stop for thousands of seaborne migrants who undertook their desperate voyage in the Aegean Sea. The island’s beaches were littered with debris from their journeys.
“It culminated in me reaching out to get actual life jackets,” Souras recalled. The mayor of Lesbos responded.
Souras said the vests still had the smell of the sea. “When I touched them, I realized that every one of these life jackets represented a human life.”
Searching for a theme, Souras, who is of Greek-British heritage, was inspired by what the migrants were seeking – shelter. He used the vests — to build igloo-shaped enclosures modeled on the temporary homes indigenous peoples build of snow and ice in the far north.
The installation struck a chord, and Souras has been invited by museums, design fairs and refugee organizations to show his work around the world. Different versions of the project have been displayed in Spain, Italy, South Africa, Brazil, Thailand and Canada. There is now an installation in Byblos, Lebanon.
Souras brought a small version of the installation to Los Angeles for the four-day LA Design Festival that ended June 10. The exhibit consisted of miniature life jackets made with fabric from the real ones.
He said the point of the exhibit is not political, and “isn’t really meant to influence somebody’s point of view. “It’s really just meant to make somebody feel more inspired to explore more about the crisis like I did,” he said.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 65 million people worldwide have been displaced from their homes, and more than 22 million are refugees – people forced to flee because of conflict or persecution.
Souras said that is something he wants those who see his art to think about.