Odd Nerdrum, Refugees at Sea, 1979-80

In 1979-80, thousands of Vietnamese refugees fled their homeland by boat to other nations in Southeast Asia. They were known as the Boat People. A humanitarian crisis had been unfolding in Vietnam, with economic sanctions and conflicts ravaging the already war-torn nation. Between the years 1975-90, it is believed that nearly 800,000 Boat People made the journey, some of whom did not survive. The crisis inspired Nerdrum to paint this monumental picture (11×16 ¾’).

Nerdrum said “I will never make another picture like that, because not a single individual on board the fleet can guarantee for the quality I gave them. I transformed all of them to heroes, to beautiful saints seeking the good. But I have now come to a different conclusion. I do not think that man is good, but that he can become good. I cannot continue to sanctify one crook after another through my way of painting. The idea was naive.”

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