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Architecture student Achilleas Souras ’23, poses in front of his installation, “SOS – Save Our Souls.”

Student’s refugee life jacket shelter at exhibition in France

“SOS – Save Our Souls,” an installation by architecture student Achilleas Souras ’23, is on display at Traversèes, a French art fair with the theme of the border, displacement and exile.

Traversèes (French for “crossings”), founded by South Korean artist Kimsooja, opened Oct. 12 in Poitiers, France. The event brings together 30 works and performances by Kimsooja and invited guest artists; the fair runs through Jan. 19, 2020.

Souras, a second-year architecture undergraduate, began working on the project in 2016 while he was still in high school. Affected by the plight of refugees crossing from Syria to Europe, he designed a small shelter out of life jackets discarded on the shores of the Greek island Lesbos, a regular landing place for refugees entering Europe.

“The project idea was to propose a solution to a phase in the actual refugee crisis and to also attract people to find out more about it,” Souras said. The first iteration of “SOS” comprised 52 lifejackets attached to an igloo-shaped framework, approximately 3 feet tall.

Since then, “SOS” has been showcased in museums and art fairs in cities including London, Rome, Toronto, New York City and Los Angeles, and is among work featured on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees website. After early showings, Souras received an invitation to show a much larger version, made from 1,000 lifejackets, at 2017 Milan Design Week. This is the version on display at Traversèes.

For many, the igloo shape captures attention, Souras said, but for him the refugees inside “are trapped and cannot be seen, or hear what is going on outside.”

“As the crisis is still relevant today, the appeal of the design still seems to carry on,” he said. “When you hold the jacket in your hand and you smell the sea, you look at things through a different prism, and you realize that every jacket represents a human life.”

Patti Witten is a writer for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

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