Immigration-themed Art Exhibitions

By Yu Funahashi.

Art has a key role in showing people the dark side of the modern society, however, many people might think art should be beautiful, make them relaxed or entertain them. It might be easier to look at the contemporary world in a positive side than its negative side because we do not have to take any action or think about the social issues to change the world better when they see only the good side of our society. Also, people being satisfied with the current situation might not even notice that they refuse to face the problems. However, art can highlight and make an intensive appeal for the social problems, and people can face up to the reality of the social problems through art. This essay will focus on the important role played by art in showing the social issues, especially the downside of immigration.

These days, governments and international organizations provide humanitarian and rehabilitation assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons, however, it might not seem to decrease the number of refugees around the world. In fact, UNHCR reported that:

An unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also an estimated 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. In a world where nearly 1 person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution (UNHCR, 2018)

People who live in harsh environments, seek safety and a better life. However, even though they immigrate to other countries, many of them might be faced with a tough situation again because of a language barrier and cultural differences. It might take a long time to adapt to the new surroundings.

Many artists address the theme of immigration. For example, Hucal (2018) described that 40 of the artworks, which was displayed in a nomadic European art biennial in Italy, deal with a subject of human movement and cohabitation. Cotter (2017) explained that an exhibition called “State of Exception/Estado de Excepción” at Parsons School of Design focused on relics of illegal immigrants entering America from Mexico. This exhibition tells us the harsh realities of migration; many migrants died attempting to cross the border. The Guardian (2018) presented an article on the Getty Images photographer John Moore, who addressed migration through documenting the US-Mexico border for 10 years. In addition, a Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, made three art works about the refugee crisis exhibited at Sydney’s Biennale (Davidson, 2018). The context of his artworks is “the impact of globalization on human suffering and a lack of humanity in the west” (Davidson, 2018). These mentioned art exhibitions ask people how serious the problem of immigration is.

Although migrants cross the borders and live in other countries successfully, they face difficult challenges in host countries, such as adjusting to different cultures, acquisition of a language other than their native language, and getting a job. For example, in Norway, "many 'non-Western immigrants' work in unskilled and semiskilled occupations as taxi-drivers, hotel personnel, cleaners, and so on, doing many of the jobs that 'Norwegians no longer want'. Educated 'immigrants' often experience difficulties in obtaining employment that fits their educational level." (Gullestad, 2002, p.47) Although Norway is recognized as the country that encourages equality in various fields, such as gender equality, equal opportunities for education and welfare services, it might be difficult to grant complete equality to immigrants.

On 22nd and 23rd September 2018, a team of 13 Japanese dancers, together with the theatre school Nordic Black Xpress, performed the piece ‘Silent Screams.’ The dance performance was based on a book written by Farida Ahmadi, a Afghan-Norwegian writer and social anthropologist. This book covers mental and physical problems of refugee and immigrant women and social problems associated with them [1]. This physical performance consisted of 6 parts. Through this dance performance, we can feel the emotional states of the immigrants struggling with distress and suffering. The performance had few dialogues, but it tells us the difficulties that immigrants face in their daily lives.

Various kinds of art forms, such as art exhibitions, photography, and physical performance explore a topic of immigration and they make a strong emotional appeal to people. The problems of immigration are complex and take a long time to create an ultimate solution, however, we should not refuse the reality of immigration. Immigration-themed art exhibitions might be the ways to realize the necessity of finding a fundamental solution to the issues of immigration.


[1] Nordic Black Theatre. (2018). Gjestespill i Klosterenga park <<Hi No Ho/ Silent Screams>> Retrieved from


Cotter, H. (2017). For Migrants Headed North, the Things They Carried to the End. Retrieved from

Davidson, H. (2018). Ai Weiwei on the US-Australia refugee deal: ‘It’s exactly like slave trading’ Retrieved from

Gullestad, M. (2002). Invisible Fences: Egalitarianism, Nationalism and Racism. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 8, 1, 45-63.

Hucal, S. (2018). Art exhibition highlights human side of European migration. Retrieved from

Nordic Black Theatre. (2018). Gjestespill i Klosterenga park <<Hi No Ho/ Silent Screams>> Retrieved from

Sayej, N. (2018). ‘It’s more relevant than ever’ – photo exhibition puts focus on immigration. Retrieved from

UNHCR. (2018). Figures at a Glance. Retrieved from