CONF: Artists on the Move: Transnational and Transcultural Perspectives on Migration from the (former) Russian Empire, 1880–1939 (Yale-NUS-Studies / online, 7-8 March 2024)

The twentieth century was marked by several significant migratory flows from the Russian Empire and its successor states, which resulted in many artists living and working abroad. These diverse artistic relocations were already present at the turn of the century and increased drastically after the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, as well as the Civil War of 1917–1922. These migratory flows were fundamentally impacted by socio-political factors and largely comprised of artists who opposed either the Tsarist or the Soviet regimes on the basis of their ideological, national, or religious views. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has emphasized the ever-present political dimension that shapes migration processes, either as a reason for relocation, in the choice of destination/transit country, and in the activities and/or activism at the new place of residence. Furthermore, it has added a new urgency to the already existing need to reconsider the concept of “Russian emigration,” as much as the problematic terms: “Russian artist” or “Russian avant-garde.”

First and foremost, the conference aims to illuminate the national, ethnocultural and religious diversity of the migrant artists in order to deconstruct the homogenizing perception of this phenomenon as solely Russian or Russian-speaking. Second, it proposes a shift away from a Russocentric point of view—inherent in the term “emigration”—towards a conceptualization that is not intrinsic to any nation, as reflected by the terms “migration” or, still more neutrally, “transnational mobility.” Third, the conference proposes to extend the conventional time span by including migratory flows from the late nineteenth century, before the “first emigration wave,” in order to pay special attention to possible dynamic changes in migrant communities after the 1905 Revolution and the October Revolution of 1917. The period under consideration ends with the year 1939 before another wave of migration from the Soviet Union was triggered by the Second World War.

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