In December of 2014, I received by mail an emergency appeal for funds from the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR). Unfolding a large poster, I first believed it to be a photo of a Christmas tree. Upon turning it in the direction the text would have me do, blinking, I stared at refugees packed like sardines in an open boat making their way across the Mediterranean—to a cool reception. This extraordinary photo by Italian coastguard Massimo Sestini turned upright resembles a Christmas tree at sea. From this image, this collage about the fundamental nature of the quest was inspired.
To the right, a tree-carrying mermaid, embellished with empty bowls and a tail fashioned from boats, floats alongside. In the lower right, allegorically, mountaineers tread a difficult icy path to a summit. Below them, the stock of an anchor substitutes as a thin trunk while the anchor arm holds an emptying bowl of water from which the tree-boat rises. A young migrant, looking back over his shoulder, is urged forward by a migrant sea turtle. Above him, the teeth of a menacing angler fish stand side by side with conifers. Balanced above, a boat filled with foot-printed sand offers slow passage to the Three Wise Men.
An ornament-filled Christmas wreath, instead of providing life-saving buoyancy, challenges the balance of a migrant, arms outstretched, upon a peapod boat, his head weighed down by an ancient grinding stone. A traffic light offers a contradictory message, lit green yet with bright red ornaments. The surf alongside the boat as well as metal tread plates complete the outline of the tree which is decorated with pearl lanterns, lit candles, and Christmas ornaments, all of which bring incipient hope to the harrowing scene.
The pine seed atop the bow is encircled by the disintegrating 12 stars of the European Union (EU) flag, reflecting conflicting policy toward the new arrivals.