Migration and Movement

Artists move around the world, shifting their identities, cultural traditions, and artistic techniques.

People have always moved around the world. Early humans were nomadic, traveling in search of food, shelter, and safety. Today, people move for many different reasons, including economic, political, cultural, religious, and environmental. Sometimes, events beyond people’s control, like war or natural disaster, leave them displaced and forced to migrate. Other times, people migrate voluntarily, perhaps in search of better work opportunities or a different lifestyle. For many artists, their own migrations and those of their ancestors shape their identities and the art they produce.

As people move, they bring their traditions, knowledge, and beliefs with them. Often, as much as they absorb the culture of their new home, they influence it with their own traditions.

To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A brief, evocative description, account, or scene.

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

The customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

A setting for or a part of a story or narrative.

A work of art made with a pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements, often consisting of lines and marks (noun); the act of producing a picture with pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements (verb, gerund).

An element or substance out of which something can be made or composed.

Derived from the French verb coller, meaning “to glue,” collage refers to both the technique and the resulting work of art in which fragments of paper and other materials are arranged and glued or otherwise affixed to a supporting surface.

A term generally used to describe art that is not representational or based on external reality or nature.

Related Artists: El Anatsui, Yto Barrada, Mona Hatoum, Yun-Fei Ji, Jacob Lawrence, Mateo López, Zarina

Questions & Activities

  1. On the Move

    Why do people migrate? Brainstorm a list of reasons why people move from one place to another.

    Look at the works of art in this theme. How would you describe the types of migrations these artists portray? In discussion with a partner, compare and contrast the ways these artists portray migration.

  2. Migrant Stories

    Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series (1940–41) tells the story of African Americans moving from the southern United States to the North.

    Interview someone who migrated from one place to another. It could be someone who immigrated to a new country or someone who moved from one town to the next town. Gather background information about why they left and how they chose their new home.

    Tell your interviewee’s story. Illustrate scenes from their journey by drawing a series of images, just as Jacob Lawrence did, or by writing several one-paragraph vignettes.

  3. Home Dictionary

    What does home mean to you? For Zarina, the images in Home Is a Foreign Place (1999) serve as a visual vocabulary of things related to home. She created abstract renderings of words like “afternoon,” “hot-breeze,” and “threshold.”

    Make a list of words that remind you of your home (or homes). They can be nouns, adjectives, and verbs; they can refer to tangible objects or abstract ideas.

    In a notebook, write one word from your list at the bottom of each page. This notebook will be your home dictionary.

    Over the next month, fill in the pages of the notebook with images that illustrate these words. Collect photographs, ticket stubs, ribbons, images and words from magazines, and other materials that represent your words, and collage them into your notebook.

  4. Make a Family-Immigration Map

    Where in the world has your family been? Print out a copy of the map of the world.

    Identify the different places where you have lived and mark them on the map.

    Next, research immigration in your family history. Interview relatives about how your ancestors traveled, both within your country and across continents. Mark your family’s movement on the map.

    Share your map with a partner. How was your family’s journey different from that of your partner’s family?