In 1941, Jacob Lawrence, then just twenty-three years old, completed a series of sixty small tempera paintings with text captions about the Great Migration.
Within months of its making, Lawrences Migration series was divided between The Museum of Modern Art (even numbered panels) and the Phillips Memorial Gallery (odd numbered panels).
The work has since become a landmark in the history of African-American art, a monument in the collections of both institutions, and a crucial example of the way in which history painting was radically reimagined in the modern era.
In 2015 and 2016, marking the centenary of the Great Migrations start (191516), the panels will be reunited in exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art and then The Phillips Collection.
Published to accompany the exhibition, this publication both grounds Lawrences Migration series in the cultural and political debates that shaped the young artist's work and highlights the series continued resonance for artists and writers working today. An essay by Leah Dickerman situates the series in relation to heady contemporary discussions of the artists role as a social agent; a growing imperative to write and give image to black history in the late 1930s and early 1940s; and an emergent sense of activist politics.
Elsa Smithgall traces the exhibition history of the Migration panels from their display at the Downtown Gallery in New York in 1941 to their acquisition by MoMA and the Phillips Collection a year later.
Short commentaries on each panel explore Lawrences career and painting technique and aspects of the social history of the Migration portrayed in his images.
The catalogue also debuts ten poems newly commissioned from acclaimed poets written in response to the Migration series.
Elizabeth Alexander (honoured as the poet at President Obamas first inauguration) introduces the poetry project with a discussion of the poetic quality of Lawrences work, as well as the impact and legacy of the poets in his orbit including Claude McKay and Langston Hughes.