Jacob Lawrence, Migration Series, 1940–41, Casein tempera on hardboard, 12 x 18 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1942
January 9, 2021
When I started this letter a few days ago, I was thinking about the diverse perspectives on diaspora, immigration, and migration reflected in this issue of TAS. However, the events in Washington, D. C. on January 6th have given me great pause.
I am hoping for healing in the coming days. This poem from the anthology Border Lines: Poems of Migration, discussed in this issue, might be helpful. It is Art that will get us through these dark times.
The Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail
We cross borders lightly
Nothing carries us,
but as we move on
we carry rain,
and an accent,
and a memory
of another place.
Nicolette Reim writes about the concepts of “diaspora, immigration and migration” that are celebrated in the new anthology of poetry, Border Lines: Poems of Migration. This beautiful small book contains poems from 122 poets that offer complicated and rich stories of the migrant, the remembrance of the homeland and the risks involved when one has to leave the place of one’s birth, culture and family. Included with her essay are readings of three of the poems—two by the poets and one by the translator.
In 1940-41, the American artist Jacob Lawrence produced his extraordinary Migration Series, sixty panels painted in casein and tempera inspired by flight of more than one million African Americans from the rural South to the industrialized North. Lawrence maintained that this transformative Black experience “ is part of the American experience as a whole.”
In 1947, Josef Albers invited artists Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn Knight to teach in the Summer Program at Black Mountain College. Knight told interviewer Connie Bostic of The Journal of Black Mountain College Studies, “Well, we were living in New York City, and Josef Albers called up out of the blue and asked if Jake would attend the summer institute and Jake said yes, so away we went. They arranged everything so we would be, so we would feel comfortable arriving there.”
Why did the Albers call Lawrence and Knight, two African American artists, “out of the blue” to join an experimental community of artists and teachers in the mountains of North Carolina? Perhaps their own experience of having had to leave the place of their birth in 1933 to escape the Nazi regime found resonance in Lawrence’s migration scenes. They were all people of a diaspora. In his book, Josef and Anni Albers: Equal Unequal, an intimate history of the Albers that traces the transition from their beginnings in Germany to their life in Connecticut, Nicholas Fox Weber gives the reader new insights into two of the most important artists of the 20th century. I had the great pleasure of emailing with NFW, who is the Director of the Albers Foundation. His firsthand accounts and knowledge of the Albers have given me new ways to understand their process and thought in making their art. Josef once said his goal as a teacher was “to open eyes,” which is what this cultural history has done for me in my reading of the Albers’ art.
Arturo Lindsay, an Atlanta-based artist, was born in Colon, Panama, and raised in Brooklyn, NY. In this TAS dialogue with poet and long-time colleague, Opal Moore, Lindsay reveals the importance of his transcultural location within the African Diaspora to his imaginative geographies and creative impulses and alliances. Included among the visual works that accompany the dialogue are two videos by Lindsay that convey the sounds and rhythms of a Diaspora that connects all the places where Africans have travelled carrying their cultural capital. In his work we can see that, to the artist, Diaspora is not reduced to a euphemism for the ports of the transatlantic slave trade; it claims a vast territory of recovery and renewal.
Wishing all the best for 2021,
The Art Section
Deanna Sirlin is an artist and writer from Brooklyn, New York currently living and working outside of Atlanta, Georgia.