Nifemi Marcus-Bello highlights plight of migrant Mediterranean Sea crossings in Milan installation

Nigerian designer Nifemi Marcus-Bello has created a sculptural interpretation of a boat from stainless steel to highlight the dangerous crossing faced by people crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Named Omi Iyọ – Yoruba for saltwater, the stainless steel sculptural object is on show at 5VIE Design Week during Milan’s annual design week.

Nifemi Marcus-Bello sculptureNifemi Marcus-Bello sculpture
Nifemi Marcus-Bello has created a sculptural piece informed by migrant ships

The shape is a reference to the boats that carry migrants from the coast of North Africa to southern European nations like Italy.

According to the designer it was rendered in highly polished stainless steel, to create a “space for reflection” for viewers of the piece, on show during this year’s Milan design week.

It was filled with salt that will fall slowly from a hole in the bottom of the piece, creating a pile on the floor over the course of the installation.

Marcus-Bello told Dezeen that the idea for the piece came from a conversation he had with a migrant during a previous Milan design week.

He believes that it was a perfect time to reflect on the ongoing tension over migrants in Italy by showing the piece, which debuted at last year’s Design Miami in Miami Beach.

“I don’t know if the conversation is being had as often as it should,” said Marcus-Bello. “In West Africa, where a lot of these migrants come from, it’s actually kind of swept under the rug.”

Nifemi Marcus-Bello installationNifemi Marcus-Bello installation
It functions like an hourglass, letting sand fall to the floor

For the designer, the “sensitive subject matter” and the potential for reflection it represents came before a consideration of materiality.

“The material isn’t as important as the message,” he said. “Most of the work that I’ve done in the past, there’s always a socioeconomic aspect to it,” he continued.

The piece was presented on a dark blue backing in a historic building in Milan. Marcus-Bello hopes the installation is one of the “calmest” during the busy design week.

Omi Iyọ is for sale, with the designer planning to donate the proceeds from the sale to a charity that aids migrants.

Other highlights from this year’s edition of Milan design week include an inflatable gaming chair from IKEA and lighting sculptures by Leo Maher that reference “queer legends”.

The photography is by Amir Farzad.

Omi Iyọ is on show from 15-21 April as part of Milan design week. See our Milan design week 2024 guide on Dezeen Events Guide for information about the many other exhibitions, installations and talks taking place throughout the week.

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