Strangers Arrive: Emigrés and the Arts in New Zealand, 1930-1980, by Leonard Bell, associate professor of art history at the University of Auckland, foregrounds the migratory contributions to the ever-burgeoning New Zealand cultural scene. This exhaustive book culminates a lengthy process of research and writing that began in the 1990s. It contains photographs and images that facilitate an up-close assessment of the experience of foreignness and of the many lives that encountered and produced change.
Thousands of Continental migrants arrived in New Zealand during the tumultuous 20th century. Forced to flee their war-torn lands and Nazi and Communist regimes in Europe, these artists, writers, intellectuals, and architects brought along with them new and modernist trends in all creative disciplines. Bell outlines some of these cultural influences, for instance, the post-war Modernist movement and the modern methods of Bauhaus architectural design whereby function precedes form. His range of sources includes conference papers, exhibition catalogues, theses, dissertations, films, periodicals, interview tapes and other archival materials.
Through detailed profiles, Bell examines the lives of these refugee scholars, lawyers, artists, and other educated professionals, some of which he actually visited and interviewed. In thematically ordered chapters, Bell details the impact of various emigres on New Zealand photography (Irene Koppel, Maja Blumenfeld), painting (Kees Hos, Frederick Ost), writing and journalism (Robert Goodman, Theo Schoon), and architecture (Imi Porsolt, Vladimir Čačala). What is most interesting is that many of these skilled professionals and thinkers worked with each other as well as with other locals, crossing disciplines and exchanging ideas. The book, therefore, deals with the divided local reception of, and interactions with, the emigres.
Strangers Arrive: Emigrés and the Arts in New Zealand, 1930-1980, with its array of visual evidence and impressive bibliography, would primarily suit students and researchers working on twentieth-century New Zealand art history. Its readership, however, ought not to be limited to academic circles. A generous tribute to the hearts and minds that transformed New Zealand ways of seeing, this book is sure to pique the interest of all.
Reviewer: Azariah Alfante
Publisher: University of Auckland Press