Plaza Voices: "All Immigrants are Artists"

Cover of De Kooning: An American Master, by Mark Stevens and Annalynn Swann
Cover of John James Audubon: the Making of an American, by Richard Rhodes Cover of Louise Bourgeois, by Robert Storr Cover of Create Dangerously, by Edwidge Danticat

I started thinking recently about how many famous and influential artists came to the U.S. from other countries. Willem de Kooning, that giant of American abstract expressionism, emigrated from the Netherlands in 1926--as a stowaway aboard a British freighter. Pop artist David Hockney's sun-soaked images of California are perhaps all the more notable because he himself is English, though he lived here for years. A list of immigrant artists and authors reads like a who's who of art and literature. There are photographers like Edward Steichen (to be fair, he came here from Luxembourg as an infant) and László Moholy-Nagy (he came from Hungary in 1937), and quintessential "American" painters like John James Audubon (born Jean-Jacques Audubon in what is now Haiti, he came to the U.S. on a false passport in 1803) and Albert Bierstadt (another who came as a baby). In the 1930s and 40s, artists like George Grosz and Max Beckmann came from Germany, escaping political persecution. Renowned sculptor Louise Bourgeois arrived from France in the late 1940s, and her compatriot Marcel Duchamp, the granddaddy of Dada, became a U.S. citizen in 1955. Writers who came here from someplace else include Vladimir Nabokov (Russia), Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan), Azar Nafisi (Iran), and Ha Jin (China). And I'm not even going to get started on musicians (British Invasion, anyone?)

But what about the millions of immigrants who aren't famous? What of their life's work? Haitian-born author Edwidge Danticat has spoken and written about the fundamental creativity that is inherent in the very act of immigration. She shares a quote from the novel It's Not Love, it's Just Paris, by Patricia Engel: "I was already an artist by blood; all immigrants are artists because they create a life, a future, from nothing but a dream. The immigrant’s life is art in its purest form."

Who are some of your favorite writers, artists, and musicians who immigrated to the United States? What do you think of the quote above? Share your thoughts with us!

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Comments

Thank you for the recommendation! I just read an interview with Andreu on http://www.cbcdiversity.com and she sounds really interesting. I was able to order "The Secret Side of Empty" through Prospector. It looks great.

Research Maria E. Andreu, Argentinian, author of Secret Side of Empty published in March 2014 and residing in New York.

Oh, good one! I love her work as well.

Marina Abramović (Serbian born and living in New York)

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