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Diaspora / Migration

Stephen Towns
We shall traverse through windy shores, 2019
Natural and synthetic fabric, nylon tulle, polyester and cotton thread, cotton/polyester blend batting, crystal glass beads
88.9 x 114.9 cm (35 x 45.3 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and De Buck Gallery, New York

Migration is the movement of people to different areas in search of a settlement, and diaspora refers to a population that shares a common heritage who is scattered in different parts of the world. Migration and the experiences of diasporic groups of people are recognized as a common theme in contemporary art as we live in a time in which many people can easily travel, live and work internationally; meanwhile, we are currently experiencing a mass displacement of refugees.

Still, migration has been a common human story and a theme in art since ancient times, with cave paintings understood to refer to the navigation of nomadic peoples via the stars, record animal migrations, and to act as a way for groups of people to mark their way as they resettled – imprinting their culture in a new place. Migration art not only refers to artworks made upon settling in a new place, in fact, the greatest historical period of art made by migrants was the the ‘Migration Period’ in 300-900CE, during which nomadic tribes moved, fled and invaded all the way from Central Asia to the British Isles. The artworks made by these tribes were carried with them and consisted of personal, portable pieces – jewelry, garment clasps, weapons and tools – which referenced their lifestyles and beliefs in gold, gemstones, cut glass, and enamel embellishments.

Sara Tse
Mapping Memories- Keijyo (Seoul) 1920, 2019
Porcelain pieces framed in slide mounts, digital projector and wooden viewing machine with digital video
Installation: 180 x 130 x 100 cm (70.8 x 51.1 x 39.4 in.)
Digital video: 7’20”
Courtesy of the artist and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong

Many of the genres of Modern art that we know today have been a result of migration: mid-20th century European movements such as Cubism travelled from France to become Vorticism in Britain, Futurism in Italy, and Russian Constructivism at its Easternmost point. Brutalism grew slowly from Modernism at the Bauhaus in Germany to become Le Corbusier’s béton brut in France, and travelled to South America to incorporate brise-soleil techniques. Smaller movements such as Dadaism were developed by European artists fleeing the Nazi regime to Switzerland, and today with increased movement and the globalization of culture, themes migrate between international artistic styles more than ever before.

Art borne out of intentional migration often expresses the way in which differing cultures and traditions can meet and mix, and engages with the challenge of maintaining one’s cultural identity. In recent years, people who migrate – especially those forced to - are becoming demonised as countries tighten borders, however we can see the significance of migration and diasporic communities to maintaining a vibrant cultural life.

Related categories

Scenes of Everyday Life

Commemoration / Mourning

Documentary Photography



Human and Society

Family History

Searching for Identity

Collective Memories

Socio-political Issues

(Inspired by) Tradition

Surrounding Environment

Gelatin Silver Print


Digital Print

Geopolitical Approach


Tracking Memories

How to Define Contemporary Art

Learning from Different Cultures

Personal/Social Identity