Depicting demographic and migration trends in art

Depicting demographic and migration trends in art

Georgia Allan 07 Jul, 2015

Apart from using numbers and charts, how can we visually present and tell a compelling story about demographic and migration trends? Over the past month, the team at .id have very kindly let me out of the office for a holiday to the USA and Canada. While I might have been away from work, my passion and eye for demographics never goes on holiday!

Whilst in New York, I visited the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) which was amazing. They were holding a special exhibition by an artist named Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence was an African-American painter who in 1941, aged just 23, painted the Migration Series.

The Migration Series is a collection of 60 paintings, depicting the Great Migration. The Great Migration was a mass migration of approximately 6 million African Americans from the South of the US to the North. This phenomenon occurred between 1910 and 1970. Huge proportions of the African American population left states such as Louisiana, Texas and Georgia. The most common destinations were New York and Chicago, but Philadelphia, Cleveland and Indianapolis were also popular. Much of the migration was driven by the discriminatory attitudes in the South and a lack of employment opportunities. During the early years of the mass migration, World War I created a labour shortage in the north. The northern states were known to be more accepting of the African American population.

The series of paintings works in a chronological order of a migrant leaving their former home, and settling in to their new one. I’m going to share with you a few of my favourites, but you can see the whole series thanks to MoMA’s interactive website. Below is the first painting in the series, which has a caption of ‘During World War I there was a great migration north by southern African Americans’


 The migrants were excited by the prospect of a new life, and I think the painting below captures that perfectly.


 The migrants arrived in Pittsburgh, one of the great industrial centers of the North

However, with most migration stories, life in a new city is hard. Many of the African American migrants were dismayed to find they were still subjected to discrimination. Also, with the speed of the migration and the vast number of arrivals, many were living in cramped and unhealthy environments.


 The migrants, having moved suddenly into a crowded and unhealthy environment, soon contracted tuberculosis. The death rate rose.

And the final painting sums the whole experience up perfectly.


And the migrants kept coming.

Georgia Allan

Georgia completed a Masters in Population Studies and Demography at Flinders University in Adelaide. At .id, Georgia is a consultant in .id's housing team. She was heavily involved in the creation and continued development of, the online tool developed to give councils an accessible evidence base for planning and advocacy. Georgia has prepared housing demand and supply analysis for a range of councils, including those in inner-city, middle ring, growth and peri-urban areas. When not in the office, she is likely to be cooking, knitting, crocheting, or buried in a good book.

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