Refugees, Cyprián Majerník, Slovak National Gallery, Public Domain Mark
Itinerant artists, everlasting artworks

Art owes many a masterpiece to painters, sculptors, composers and other creative geniuses who left their native countries and settled abroad.

Mauricio Kagel, 1968, Klaus Eschen, Deutsche Fotothek, In Copyright
Mauricio Kagel, 1968, Klaus Eschen, Deutsche Fotothek, In Copyright

Composer Mauricio Kagel was born into a Jewish family that had fled from Russia to Argentina in the 1920s. He was self-taught as a composer when he arrived in Cologne on a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service. Settling in Cologne - the capital of ‘new music’ - Kagel would attend and later teach at the iconic Darmstadt summer course and become an icon of the avant-garde. He was also active in the fields of film and photography, proving that the possibilities of music are inexhaustible.

Tamara Łempicka was one of Poland’s most important female artists. Born in Warsaw, Łempicka moved to Saint Petersburg before travelling to Paris to pursue studies in painting. She was a well-known figure in the City of Light but left France for good at the outbreak of World War II. After having married Baron Raoul Kuffner (earning her the nickname “Baroness with a Brush”), she moved to the United States in 1939. 35 years later she resettled in Mexico, where she died in 1980. Łempicka’s style is an original blend of neoclassical, cubist, art deco and abstract elements, resulting in striking, colourful canvases. They often feature a strong female protagonist, mirroring the panache of their creator.

The life of one of the great Serbian novelists, Miloš Crnjanski, was a succession of migrations too. He was born in Čongrad (southern Hungary), grew up in Timisoara (western Romania), Rijeka (a seaport in Croatia) and Vienna, fought in World War I and then moved to Paris and Tuscany. In the 1920s he spent seven years in Pančevo and Belgrade to then serve twice at the Yugoslav Embassy in Berlin. In the late 1930s, he worked in Rome, travelled across Spain and summered in Lisbon. An extensive period was spent in exile in London (1941-1965) before he finally returned to Belgrade.

Apart from being a diplomat and a journalist, Crnjanski was an established poet and author. His most prominent work is the historical novel Migrations (Seobe) of which he wrote the first volume in 1929 and the second as an immigrant in London in 1962. The plot is set in the 18th century during a war between France and Austria, focusing on the absurd cruelties history inflicts on private life. The book was translated into many languages and made into a movie by Aleksandar Petrović.

Crnjanski is just one of many creators whose life as well as their work have been influenced by migration. In the oeuvre of fashion designer Hussein Chalayan, migration even is a dominant theme.

Chalayan was born in Nicosia in 1970 in Cyprus, at that time divided due to ethnic conflicts between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities. His family left Cyprus for England in 1978, where Chalayan attended Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and established his own fashion label in 1994.

Ambimorphous, Fall/Winter 2002-2003, Hussein Chalayan, Collection Photo Etienne Tordoir, courtesy Catwalkpictures (via European Fashion Heritage Association), In Copyright
Ambimorphous, Fall/Winter 2002-2003, Hussein Chalayan, Collection Photo Etienne Tordoir, courtesy Catwalkpictures (via European Fashion Heritage Association), In Copyright

The silhouette shown at the left represents an iconic moment on Chalayan's 2002-2003 Fall/Winter runway: a lone Asian model, dressed in an ethnic, eastern Turkish costume, stood still for fifteen minutes. After this thought-provoking silence, other models joined her, wearing layers of western menswear fabric. The designer did not comment on the performance, considering the clothes themselves to be his main mean of expression.

I am obsessed with migration, historical debate, geography and how they influence culture. Hussein Chalayan