"Boat People" is a pejorative term coined in the 1970s to describe immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who flee their home countries (by boat) seeking sanctuary. In 2019, Claes Gabriel created the painting "Boat People" to transform this phrase into a form of solidarity for people who see Philadelphia as a place to make home. Inspired by the Haitian flag, the painting depicts a crowded boat with individuals surrounding a central figure wearing a ceremonial white mask. The passengers float above a sea of red, a symbol of the blood shed on the difficult journey to refuge.
Floating between colonization and immigration, Boat People captures the difficult journey between one's homeland and adopted home. This journey is a story of displacement and resiliency shared by many immigrants & refugees with diverse traditions & histories who have sought sanctuary in Philadelphia since the 1970s. "Boat People" is a vessel for these stories – drawing on the patterns of time and showing appreciation for immigrants and refugees who make the culture of Philadelphia so vibrant.
Claes Gabriel is a Philadelphia-based artist from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Gabriel immigrated to the United States in 1989 and later earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting from The Maryland Institute College of Art.