Stories of Displacement: A Tribute to Jacob Lawrence

Stories of displacement


Stories of Displacement - A Tribute to Jacob Lawrence exhibition featured (reproductions of) the Migration Series created by the late and revered Lawrence, who chronicled the flight of millions of African-Americans fleeing the “Jim Crow South” from 1910-1960.

Over 80 years ago, Lawrence, then a young artist, having partaken in a migration journey of his own, created an epic body of work consisting of 60 small tempera paintings narrating the Great Migration of African-Americans in the United States of America. More than 70 years later, Lawrence’s paintings are displayed along with the Syrian Migration Series by Lebanese American artist Helen Zughaib. Zughaib connects with Lawrence across time and space and draws her inspiration from his art to depict a parallel story about people in search of safety and freedom as they escape the ravages of war. 

In Stories of Displacement, Lawrence and Zughaib present visual narratives from two distinct geographic regions and time periods. The exhibition also featured photographs, documentaries and panel discussions. When combined together they form a narrative about current events that establish connections and construct meaningful interpretations about our relentless quest for human dignity today.

Stories of Displacement exhibition is a collaborative project between The Academy of Liberal Arts Department of Rhetoric and Composition in collaboration and The Photographic Gallery. 


Co-Curated by Professor Doris Jones and Dina ElDeeb



  • Exhibition Talk: Q&A with photojournalist Max Hirzel 



  • Virtual Panel Discussion: Framing a Familiar Past and Present – Quest for Safety and Freedom 
    Nora Niedzielski-Eichner, Dr. Belachew Gerbrewold, Helen Zughaib


Artists / Collectives:


Jacob Lawrence was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1917. The son of Southern migrants, he moved with his mother and sister to Harlem in 1930 at age 13. Throughout the 1930s, Lawrence’s art was inspired by the cultural visionaries of the Harlem Renaissance. In 1938, Lawrence had his first solo exhibition at the Harlem YMCA and started working for the WPA Federal Art Project. In 1940, he received a grant from the Rosenwald Foundation to create a 60-panel epic, The Migration of the Negro (now known as The Migration Series); when the series was exhibited at Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery the following year, the then 23-year-old artist catapulted to national acclaim.`In the ensuing decades, Lawrence continued to create paintings drawn from the African American experience as well as historical and contemporary themes, such as war, religion, and civil rights. 


Helen Zughaib was born in Beirut, Lebanon and lived in Europe before immigrating to the United States to study art. She earned a BFA from the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University (Zughaib, 2020). Her paintings have been included in many private and public collections, including the White House; World Bank; Library of Congress; US Consulate General, Vancouver, Canada; American Embassy in Baghdad; Iraq, the Arab American National Museum in Michigan; and the DC Art Bank collection.


Forensic Oceanography (FO) is a project that critically investigates the militarized border regime in the Mediterranean Sea, analyzing the spatial and aesthetic conditions that have caused over 16,500 registered deaths at the maritime borders of Europe over the last 20 years. Together with a wide network of NGOs, scientists, journalists, and activist groups, FO has produced, since 2011, several maps, video animations (e.g. Liquid Traces), visualizations, human rights reports and websites that attempt to document the violence perpetrated against migrants at sea and challenge the regime of visibility imposed by surveillance means on this contested area.


Max Hirzel is a freelance photojournalist based in Italy. Member of the French agency Haytham Pictures, also distributed by REA, his works have been published in magazines such as Six Mois, Polka magazine, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, BBC online, Il Venerdì di Repubblica, Internazionale, L'Obs, Mediapart, Sportweek, among others. The long-term work "Migrant Bodies", published in France, Germany, England, Spain and Italy, in 2018 was awarded in the Visa-ANI (Association Nationale Iconographers) prize at the Visa pour l'Image Festival in Perpignan, where it was projected. It was then exhibited at the Ecole de Photographie des Gobelins in Paris, at the P21 Gallery in London, at the Sabir Festival in Palermo and in several other Italian cities.




Nora Niedzielski-Eichner is the author of Integrating modernism: The migration paintings of Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, and Romare Bearden. Her extensive scholarship offers analysis into these artists and the meaning and interpretations they each give to the consequences of migration for African Americans. She is currently with the New York law firm of Clarick Gueron Reisbaum LLP.


Dr. Belachew Gerbrewold is a Professor of Political Science and International Relations and he is the Head of the Department of Social Work and Social Policy at Management Center Innsbruck Vienna, Austria. His research areas include international security, conflicts, migration and the diaspora, for which he has published extensively.