Focus on migration at the Tate

By Shirvan Arslan

'Between the Two My Heart is Balanced' by Lubaina Himid. Photograph © Lubaina Himid

The Migrations: Journey into British Arts exhibition at Tate Britain explores the rich contribution of immigrants to British Arts. As a German with Kurdish-Armenian roots, the museum’s promise that it would “reveal how British Art has been fundamentally shaped by migration” aroused high expectations within me. Sadly it failed to deliver. The exhibition begins with a portrait of Mary Rogers, Lady Harington, by the Dutch artist Marcus Gheeraerts in 1592. The visitor is then taken on a journey from the 16th century to the 20th century through the work of mainly western European artists. The highlights include Flemish Baroque artist Antony Van Dyck, painter to King Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria; 18th century Swiss artist Angelica Kaufmann; and 20th century German artists Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach.

Marcus Gheeraert’ss Portrait of Mary Rogers, Lady Harington.

One of the stand out inclusions is a painting Between the Two My Heart is Balanced, 1991, from African artist Lubaina Himid, who was one of the pioneers of the Black Art movement in the 1980s which put black identity on the artistic agenda.

The exhibition ends with a selection of short films such as Measures of Distance (1988) by the Lebanon director Mona Hatoum, which is a poetic reverie on the pain of separation. There is also a film shot in Mauritania by Algerian born artist Zineb Sedira, that shows the African coastline dotted with ruined buildings and the remains of ships. It represents the hopes of immigrants leaving Africa for a better life in Europe.

A visit to the exhibition is worthwhile, but the link between migrant artists and their influence on British art is not as strong as I had hoped.  The omission of important artists such as British-Nigerian Yinka Shonibare, who is best known for his exploration of colonialism and post-colonialism and the Indian-born British sculptor Anish Kapoor, who designed the Orbit in the Olympic Park, was disappointing.

Migration: Journeys into British Art is at the Tate Britain until 12 August

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