Migration and Movement

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

People have always moved around the world. Early humans were nomads, traveling in search of food, shelter, and safety. Today people move for many different reasons—economic, political, cultural, religious, and environmental. Sometimes, migration and displacement are forced, as in the case of a natural disaster that destroys homes. Other times, people migrate voluntarily, perhaps searching for better job opportunities. As people travel around the world, they bring their traditions, knowledge, and beliefs with them, often mixing their cultures with those of their new homes. For many artists, their migrations and those of their ancestors are important in shaping both their personal identities and the art they produce.

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.

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.

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 section. How would you describe the types of migration that these artists take as their subject? With a partner, compare and contrast the ways these artists portray migration.

  2. Migrant Stories

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

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

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

    Share. To add your story to the MoMA Learning Flickr group, upload your images to Flickr.com and tag them “MoMA Learning migrant stories.” Check this page often to see a changing slideshow of recent submissions.

  3. Home Dictionary

    What does home mean to you? For Zarina, the images in Home Is a Foreign Place 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). These can be nouns, adjectives, and verbs; they can be 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 book 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 around the world, both within your country and across continents. Mark your family’s movement on the map.

    Share your map with a partner. How were your families’ journeys different?