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Immigration and Displacement

Kara Walker, Greg Burnet, Burnet Editions Master Printers, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., no world, 2010, color etching, drypoint, and aquatint with sugarlift and spitbite on Hahnemühle Copperplate wove paper, Donald and Nancy de Laski Fund, 2015.42.1

Why do people migrate to and within the United States?

How might works of art help us understand personal experiences of immigration and displacement?

The United States is frequently described as a “nation of immigrants.” Immigrants have played a pivotal role in the country’s history and understanding of itself. Today, more than 40 million immigrants live in the United States. In fact, more immigrants reside in the United States than in any other country, resulting in an abundant diversity of cultures and ethnicities.

Some of these people came to the United States voluntarily, seeking a better life for themselves and their families, as pictured in Bernarda Bryson’s 30,000,000 Immigrants print. Others were forced to migrate, including hundreds of thousands of Africans who were enslaved and transported to the country. Kara Walker’s no world explores this history. The vast majority of the country’s current citizens are descendants of these two groups of people, but they’re not the only ones who live in the United States. Millions of Native Americans also experienced involuntary migration and death as other immigrants arrived. Today, millions of their descendants reside in the US.  Additionally, migration within the country has profoundly affected places, people, and communities over time.

The works of art in this module represent a wide range of views and perspectives on immigration. Some artists contemplated the experiences of their ancestors in their artwork. Other artists witnessed events or journeys connected to immigration and displacement. Many artists were immigrants themselves and chose to reflect upon and share their personal stories through the process of making their art. What can we learn from these works of art?