A 3.5-ton, 20-foot sculpture depicting more than 140 migrants and refugees has made its way to Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus — its final stop after a year-long nationwide tour.
The traveling art piece — commissioned by Pope Francis and created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz in 2019 — has been displayed in cities including Boston, Miami and New Orleans.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” — this Bible verse, Hebrews 13:2, is one that Schmalz said he wanted to incorporate in his art for years. When Pope Francis asked him to create a piece for migrants and refugees, Schmalz said the subject and scripture went hand-in-hand.
“The deep message is that it is our spiritual duty to be welcoming, and that does not mean only be welcoming to people that are like you,” Schmalz, 52, said in an interview with The Phoenix. “It says be welcoming to strangers. A stranger is just that — someone that is completely different than you.”
Still, Schmalz said whoever looks at this piece will see someone who looks like themselves.
“There’s a maxim … ‘We were all immigrants at one time or another,’ and this sculpture really shows that,” he said.
The migrants and refugees depicted in this piece are based on real people from various faiths, cultures and backgrounds, Schmalz said. Some are based on migrants and refugees he personally knows, while others were drawn from archive photographs from Ellis Island.
“I wasn’t necessarily concerned with little ringlets of hair and details,” Schmalz said. “I was concerned with the … inner emotion that came from those photographs.”
The faces reflect a wide range of opposing feelings, such as sorrow and joy, showcasing the diversity of the migrant experience, Schmalz explained.
“It’s a tapestry of humanity, in a sense,” Schmalz said.
A pair of angel wings are positioned in the middle of the boat and seem to emerge from the center of the crowd, which Schmalz said represents the presence of the divine.
Schmalz said he spent seven months creating the original sculpture, which was installed in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City of Rome in 2019 — the piece that has toured the nation and is currently on display at Loyola is an identical casting. And despite being a Christian artist for 30 years now, Schmalz said he feels as if he’s just beginning with every piece.
Aleksandar Ristic, a junior and exercise science major, said he thinks the sculpture is interesting because it’s something he can relate to when he walks by.
“I think it’s cool because I’m a first-generation student,” Ristic, 20, said. “I’m here because my parents came here [from the former Yugoslavia] so that I can have what I have today.”
Hannah Manoff, a 21-year-old senior, said that using art to understand the world can be a unifying force for all people.
“I really enjoy when usually art pieces are political because that gives it a deeper meaning,” Manoff, who’s from Vietnam, said. “[I’m a] social work major, immigrant myself. All those things are cool. Intersectionality is cool.”
Loyola’s Vice President of Mission Integration Janet Sisler said now is the “perfect” time for the statue to be on display at Loyola, mentioning those who are seeking shelter from Hurricane Ida and the hundreds of thousands fleeing Afghanistan.
“The theme of the sculpture is welcoming and embracing migrants and immigrants, people who are yearning for sanctuary,” Sisler said. “The fact that there are millions of people in the world seeking refuge right now only adds to the fact that all of us are in some form of transition.”
Margaret Bronec, a senior majoring in environmental policy, said she wasn’t aware this piece was coming to Loyola until the morning of its installation.
“It’s always nice to have artwork, but especially artwork that’s going to spark a conversation among students,” Bronec, 21, said.
The sculpture is located near the southwest corner of the West Quad and will remain on campus until Oct. 4.