Turning refuse into art has long been a passion of Pam Longobardi, whose international projects in Hawaii, Greece, Indonesia, and Alaska have shed light on the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean. Now the Atlanta artist has launched a related project with a humanitarian mission to support Syrian refugees on the Greek island of Lesvos, just off the coast of Turkey.
Longobardi is selling bags made from discarded life jackets found in the “life vest cemetery” on Lesvos and in the Aegean Sea. They are made through a partnership between the artist’s Drifter’s Project and Lesvos Solidarity, a refugee camp that offers support to the most vulnerable refugees: families with children, pregnant women, and individuals with disabilities or serious medical conditions, or shipwreck survivors. Available through Hathaway Contemporary gallery, the “Safe Passage” bags come in two sizes, priced at $40 and $60. All proceeds go to support the workers and refugees in Lesvos.
As Longobardi explains it, the Syrian migrants are first “climate refugees,” since a long drought caused the initial unrest that led to the violent civil war that has chased millions of Syrians from their homes. She describes happening upon the piles of discarded life jackets, heaped up in mounds by island residents as waves of refugees land on their shores. The detritus included children’s arm floats meant to be used in swimming pools and other apparatus not intended for open water. “It shows how desperate the people are to escape,” says Longobardi.