Boston's newest art installation takes on world refugee crisis

The exhibit installed on Monday will be displayed until December.

Story highlights

  • Exhibit SOS was installed in the Fort Point Channel Basin in Boston
  • The artwork represents the number of refugees worldwide

(CNN)Bostonians this week were met with a stark reminder of the growing refugee crisis as they crossed over Congress Street Bridge and caught site of the city's latest art installation.

Twenty-two figurines can be seen clinging to inner tubes floating below in Fort Point Channel Basin. Each of them represents a daunting number.
    "Each figure is representative of 1 million refugees worldwide," said Emily O'Neil, spokesperson for Fort Point Arts Community, the organization that commissioned the installation.
    In 2015, there were 21.3 million refugees worldwide, over half of which were under age 18, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for the Refugees.
    The 22 figures are anchored in water that separates South Boston from downtown and feeds into the Boston Harbor.
    The installation, titled "SOS (Safety Orange Swimmers)," was created by two local artists, Ann Hirsch and Jeremy Angier.

    A long history of accepting refugees

    Hirsch and Angier said that although Boston is far from the refugee crisis, it's connected in a way by the water.
    "More than that, we wanted the art we put in the water to connect this small area of Fort Point Channel to all the bodies of water that people all over the world from all times have crossed in search of security and better lives," Hirsch and Angier said in a joint statement to CNN.
    "Boston was built by people who survived these journeys and the question today is what do we do with this tradition of welcoming immigrants, especially those in danger and in need."
    Throughout its 386-year history, Boston has accepted refugees from all over the world, from Irish people escaping their country's devastating potato famine to those fleeing current conflicts in Iraq and Syria.
    In recent years, harrowing images of refugees and migrants being rescued from sinking boats trying to cross from Africa to Europe have topped the news. Nearly 300,000 people fleeing persecution have reached European shores this year alone, according to the International Organization for Migration.
    The majority of those refugees and migrants have come from war-torn Syria, Afghanisatn and Somalia.
    "We are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record," according to UNCHR.
    The Obama administration in August hit its goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States. The administration has stated that it may accept more in the next year.

    The making of an art piece

    SOS was selected earlier this year by a committee comprised of art professionals, artists and community members.
    "The selection committee was particularly interested in the way our proposal connected our city to a global issue that so many of us are deeply concerned about right now," Hirsch and Angier said.
    Each figure was cast from polyurethane foam, painted and tied together. The art piece took six weeks to complete and was installed in the water on Monday.

    A photo posted by SOSswimmers (@sosswimmers) on

    The group of swimmers will be displayed through the end of the year.
    This project marks 12 years Fort Point Arts Community has collaborated with Fort Point Channel to display temporary public art. SOS joins several other art exhibits on display in the channel, including "PYR2014," which consists of Boston cobblestones floating in the shape of a pyramid.
    This isn't the first art exhibit highlighting the refugee crisis. A new traveling exhibition "Forced From Home" is on display in Boston. The exhibit allows visitors an interactive look at the challenges refugees and migrants face.
    Early this year, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei covered a Berlin landmark with thousands of refugee life jackets.