On the move

A series of small paintings, that tell the story of the Great Migration in the U.S. after the first World War. The art viewed together resembles a storybook

February 28, 2019 01:04 pm | Updated 01:04 pm IST

The American artist Jacob Lawrence painted the Migration Series to tell the history of the Great Migration. After World War I, more than six million African-American people moved from the southern states to the north and west U.S. Jacob’s parents were also a part of the migration.

The artist painted a series of 60 small paintings using cardboard and tempera paints. He used blocks of bold colours and simple lines to draw people. Jacob Lawrence said the word migration made him think of forward movement. In the series, he uses many ways to show movement — buses, trains, railway stations, and families carrying luggage and suitcases. Each painting in the series is called a panel and has a number from 1 through 60. Every panel has a caption that tells you what is happening in the picture.

Story through frames

Panel No. 3 shows a group of men, women and children carrying bags, sacks, and boxes. The caption for the panel says: “From every southern town migrants left by the hundreds to travel north.” In the picture, you can see birds flying in the sky. The birds make the viewer think of migration and, perhaps, freedom.

Some panels show the hardships faced by African Americans in the south and their reasons for moving. For example, panel 22 is a picture of three men in handcuffs behind prison bars. Its caption reads “Migrants left. They did not feel safe. It was not wise to be found on the streets late at night.” Panel 24 shows children working in the fields. Its caption says “Their children were forced to work in the fields. They could not go to school.”

You can see all the panels of the Migration series, with your parents’ permission, on this website: https://lawrencemigration.phillipscollection.org/the-migration-series . If you look at the pictures and read the captions one after the other, it is like reading a storybook.

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