In honor of Refugee Awareness Month this June, Mia—and local artists—are making sure museum-goers can’t look away from the global refugee crisis. From now until June 12, a striking installation of a refugee lifeboat (sourced from Greece), with human-like figures wearing lifejackets previously used by real refugees huddled together inside of it, will sit in front of The Store at Mia.
The project is a collaboration from Mia, local designer and visual artist Denimani, and Epimonia, a Twin Cities–based brand that sells bracelets and accessories made from lifejackets worn by refugees. Epimonia’s founder, Mohamed Malim, and Denimani—friends whose studios are in the same building in Minneapolis—both came to the U.S. as refugees, and have a deeply personal connection to the refugee crisis today.
“I’ve learned, through our brand, that I want to give a platform to refugee artists,” Malim says. “We don’t see a lot of refugee art on a platform where artists can share their talents.”
Malim says he was inspired by Mia’s 2020 show by Ai Weiwei, When Home Won’t Let You Stay, in which thousands of lifejackets worn by refugees fleeing Turkey for Greece were strapped around Mia’s massive neoclassical stone pillars, bringing attention to the perilous journey many people seeking safety must make.
For this year’s immersive pop-up, he sourced the lifejackets and lifeboat from the same groups that send him lifejackets for Epimonia’s bracelets—and learned they also had a lifeboat from Greece he could use. Denimani concepted and created the installation, complete with faceless figures entangled together inside. “It’s a physical artpiece that visualizes the transitions that refugees may experience,” Denimani says.
Above the shop’s entrace, Purple Sea by Syrian artist Amel Alzakout runs on a silent loop.
“She [Alzakout] boarded a boat with refugees who were fleeing, and the boat capsized,” Denimani says. “And she had a waterproof camera attached to her wrist and just hit record, and recorded the entire process from the time they fell in the water to being rescued by helicopter. It’s obviously a very dark situation, but captured in an abstract way.”
To support refugees on a local scale, museum-goers can pop into The Store at Mia to shop a special collection from Epimonia and Denimani, featuring Epimonia’s trademark bracelets, a tote bag, and pins. All proceeds will benefit the Karen Organization of Minnesota.
“I hope people remember that these are real-life situations that impact people,” Denimani says. “It’s easy for us to only really think about what’s in front of us, and not necessarily realize or even acknowledge these serious circumstances people are in, when they have to uproot their entire lives. That migration from old life to new can be dangerous. I hope people keep an open mind toward what being a refugee actually means.”
The immersive pop-up runs through June 12 at Mia, 2400 3rd Ave. S., Mpls., artsmia.org