NEW YORK (Reuters) - American artist Jacob Lawrence’s Great Migration series goes on display at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) this week in a rare exhibition showcasing all his paintings on that theme.
For the first time in 20 years, Lawrence’s 60 panels detailing the multi-decade mass movement of 6 million African Americans from the rural South to the urban North will be on display together at MoMa.
The landmark series is part of a new exhibition called “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North”, which opens on April 3 and runs until September.
“The centrepiece, the very heart of the show, is Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, which he made in 1941 when he was just 23 years old,” exhibition curator Leah Dickerman said.
“It touches on different emotional tonalities between scenes of great tenderness and intimacy and scenes of terror and violence ... Throughout the subjects that Lawrence portrays, the figures ... act with a kind of quiet dignity in the face of what is a very difficult journey from the South to the North.”
Shortly after Lawrence, himself the son of such migrants, completed his Migration Series, it was split, with half acquired by MoMA and the other half bought by The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.
In bold, colourful scenes of life and death, work, home life and hardships the paintings detail poverty and the promise of a better future the industrialised North held for millions of African Americans fleeing the South.
The exhibition coincides with the centennial anniversary of the start of the mass migration.
“The Great Migration had a huge demographic impact. It’s one of the biggest demographic events in United States history ... It changes our cities. It changes the food we eat. It changes our economies,” Dickerman said.
“I wanted this exhibition to focus on what the migration did in transforming American culture.”
Also on display are novels and poems by writers such as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, black and white photographs of families and music by Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday.
Reporting by Angela Moore and Reuters Television in New York; Writing by Angela Moore and Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London; Editing by Catherine Evans