Golden thermal blankets have become the quintessential symbol of migrants in Italy, where they are handed out to those rescued trying to reach Europe by sea.
The crinkly blankets are now also the medium for a pubic art project by Giovanni De Gara, a Florence-based artist. The project, called Eldorato, is a series of installations made by using foil sheets to cover church doors around Italy, beginning with the abbey of San Miniato a Monte in Florence, which takes its name from an Armenian Christian refugee during the Roman empire.
Eldorato’s journey will be documented by director Pietro Pasquetti, and accompanied by a selection of shots by Francesco Malavolta, who has been documenting migrants for two decades.
“Everything was dark—extraordinarily dark and quiet. The shimmering blankets alone shed some light in the night,” reads the caption of one of the photos, titled Africa’s Gold. It shows a group of African migrants in Sicily, wrapped in the golden foil.
Eldorato is a deliberate misspelled reference to El Dorado or Eldorado, a mythological place filled with gold and wealth. On the one hand, says De Gara, it creates a new word adding El, which means god in Hebrew, to dorato, golden in Italian.
But there is an extra layer. “It is also a deliberate spoiling of the word Eldorado,” De Gara told Quartz. “In this age of faking and unreliable sources, I liked the idea of giving it a phony name [like a counterfeit brand], to distinguish it from the original land of gold, yet maintaining the same meaning of a land that does not exist.”
Anti-immigrant sentiment has been on the rise in Italy. The coalition government between far-right political party Lega and the populist Five Star Movement has closed the country’s harbors to rescued migrants, and it has been opposing search and rescue missions at sea.
As part of the project, De Gara and his collaborators and supporters—which also include scientist Stefano Mancuso and writer Daniel Pennac—meet local communities to discuss immigration and dispel myths on the conditions and intentions of migrants.
Eldorato will travel around the country, covering in gold the doors of churches in Genoa, Padua, Bologna, Naples, Venice, Milan, Assisi, and other main Italian cities. The artist chose churches as the site of the project as a reminder of the religious importance of providing shelter.
De Gara is now also contemplating taking the installation to Lampedusa, Pozzallo, and the other main harbors along the migrant route that the government has targeted. He is also open to taking the installation outside Italy.