MoMA Commissions 10 Works From Top Poets for Jacob Lawrence Exhibition

Posted on March 26, 2015

Cover of Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series

The New York Museum of Modern Art has commissioned ten works of poetry from celebrated poets as part of its exhibition called One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North. The poets have been asked to write poems which were inspired by Lawrence's artwork.

The poets are a distinguished group: Rita Dove, Nikky Finney, Terrance Hayes, Tyehimba Jess, Yusef Komunyakaa, Patricia Spears Jones, Natasha Trethewey, Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, Crystal Williams, and Kevin Young. They will debut the readings of their poetry at MoMA in New York on Friday, May 1, 2015. Tickets will be available for purchase on April 3rd online at the museum's website or at the reception desk on the day of the program.

The exhibition, which runs April 3rd - September 7, 2015, includes Lawrence's 60 small tempura paintings which he completed in 1941 at the age of 23. Each painting has a text caption which helps tell the story of the great movement which had profound effects on the fabric of American life. The paintings reflect the mass movement of African Americans from the South to the North. The Great Migration began around 1915 and lasted for several decades. It has been two decades since all the paintings have been seen together. Lawrence was quite ahead of his time and his works were snapped up by museums and galleries immediately. It was the first time a black artist had his work represented in a New York gallery.

The exhibition also includes other media. There are novels and poems about the Great Migration from writers Langston Hughes, Claude McKay and Richard Wright. The music of Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday and Josh White is included, as are photographe by Robert McNeill, Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn. The focus of the exhibition is to show how Lawrence and his work helped translate and transform the representation of black experience in America. The exhibition has an accompanying book called Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, which MoMA co-published with The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.

This video from MoMA has features experts from a number of areas discussing the context and importance of the exhibit and why Lawrence's work is so important. Khalil Muhammad, the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture explains, "It is impossible to understand our music, our food, modes of expression, politics without understanding this movement." Take a look:

Photo: MoMA

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