METROMOD’s archive – general remarks

Drawing on METROMOD's interdisciplinary research on six global arrival cities (Bombay, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, London, New York, Shanghai), this curated archive develops an interactive map of creative exiles between the 1900s and 1950s.

You can enter the cities via a rotating globe or by selecting a city via the navigation bar.  The entry point for the archive is either a rotating globe, where you can select each city with a click or by choosing the corresponding city in the navigation at the top of the website. During the last three years, the METROMOD team worked with a database structure to store archival information which is now accessible under four main categories: ⬤person /■object / ✶ event / ▲ organisation. Contributions to these four categories were located on the respective city maps. Some of the archives feature entries written by external as well as local authors, thus contributing to a plurality of voices and perspectives.

Exile and migration involve dynamic movements and loose patterns which are reflected in the diversity of the entries. Each entry is linked to an address on a contemporary city map; often representing residences, studios or other workplaces. Local development scenarios have meant that the cities have changed in strikingly different ways, so that some of the geographic coordinates have to be understood as estimates, based on (field) research and the comparison of historical maps. Furthermore, many of the dates are approximations. Nevertheless, the spatio-temporal mapping can reveal networks and thus show how the émigré scene was interlinked with the local artistic scene as well as with other METROMOD cities.

Our objective was to build an online archive that also includes – beside prominent protagonists – less acknowledged or known persons. The nature of the entries and their selection are the result of ongoing research and are by no means intended to be representative nor claim completeness in any way, shape, or form. We hope to encourage future researchers to engage and to jointly enlarge our knowledge. We would be grateful to receive hints, helping with missing information or the reporting of errors. Every possible attempt has been made to clarify the image rights in advance and to quote them appropriately. Copyright holders who believe that illustrations have been reproduced without their knowledge are asked to contact us. We are thankful to those who gave us permission to work in private and public archives, make use of materials and documents, gave us advice and contributed with their knowledge to the existence of METROMOD’s archive.

Our archive is based on the CMS/database nodegoat by LAB1100. The archive was designed by Jamal Buscher/Bureau Johannes Erler and programmed by LAB1100.

Index of the Archive


Upon arrival in Bombay in the 1930s and 40s, exiled Europeans encountered a cosmopolitan and multicultural metropolis. To some extent, the British colonial infrastructure offered emigrants connecting points in trade or the media industry. At the same time, the innovative spirit on the brink of India’s independence in 1947 fostered progressive artistic developments in which émigrés could participate. Their migrant situated knowledge was generally perceived by the local cultural scene as stimulating. The resulting transcultural exchanges between exiles and locals will be addressed within this curated archive.

In a city moving towards multifold modernities, new contact zones emerged within the existing, informal artscape including Lesser’s boarding houses, the Chemould Frames shop and the Institute of Foreign Languages. These had developed in parallel with, perhaps despite, more restrictive colonial-era institutions, such as the Bombay Art Society. The archive unfolds (hi)stories of more commonly known exiles, like the Berlin refugee art critic Rudi von Leyden, as well as lesser-known persons such as the Czech cultural mediator Ruzena Kamath. The dense and diverse network of Bombay's art field is highlighted and brought in connection with protagonists who often met each other at private get-togethers.

By mapping their residences, studios or event venues in affluent precincts such as Malabar Hill or Fort, their predominantly privileged conditions are topographically conveyed. The often successful stories of exiles in Bombay led to lasting cultural products such as the signature tune for All India Radio, the script of the movie Prem Nagar or notable additions to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research art collection, which were partly due to advantages gained through the racial, ethnic and cultural background of the exiles. In contrast, individual examples also tell of more ambivalent exile stories and places, which are hard to trace due to prior marginalisation and dispersed sources. The overarching aim is to give an idea of the plurality of life and work in Bombay’s exile. Its discussed diversity is reflected in the variety of contributions written by authors from India and Europe.

Buenos Aires

As a sample of the presence of European immigration in the Argentine capital, the Buenos Aires archive is conceived as a glimpse of the local intellectual and artistic life in which foreigners and Argentine-borns intermingled. Certain networks of sociability have been privileged, which enable us to highlight a number of existing connections between personalities, institutions, events and objects considered here as artistic agents. Exhaustiveness being out of reach in this exercise, many names had to be inevitably excluded.

In contemporary times, Buenos Aires has been the most important arrival city for European migrants in America together with Mexico City, New York and São Paulo. Indeed, especially during the first half of the 20th century, Buenos Aires was a major urban centre where hundreds of exiled artists, mainly European, settled, as they were looking for better economic and socio-political conditions. This specific demographic of Buenos Aires led to the establishment of institutions and meeting spaces which were founded by immigrants in order to encourage socio-cultural encounters reflected in some of the entries we have retained for the archive. In order to remain as close as possible to the local scene, it has been important to address in this archive the richness of the exchanges between Argentines and foreigners, and to give a special place to the crucial socialization pivots for the migrants that some Argentinian actors or institutions have been.


The Istanbul archive is dedicated to the city on the Bosporus as a destination for migrant and refugee painters, photographers, and architects in the early 20th century.

One part of the archive focuses on the Russian-speaking refugees who chose the city mainly because of its geographical proximity and relaxed visa policies. It analyses the interrelations between émigré artists from the former Russian Empire themselves and their supporters, who were directly or indirectly related to the Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople, as well as their interactions with the city’s venues. In terms of biography, greater emphasis is placed on the Istanbul period of these artists’ lives, although brief information is also given for other cities of their émigré ways. Since many of them are still not very well-researched, we would like to ask for help from those readers who have any information on the names of the artists in a group photo, which is a part of the entry named “Union of Russian Painters in Constantinople”, their private archives, and important details concerning their lives in general.

Another part of this archive focuses on German-speaking artists, architects, and intellectuals who came to Istanbul after 1927; in other words, when the great body of the Russian-speaking emigrants had already left the city. Many of them followed an invitation from Turkish ministries and authorities and were part of the modernisation project of the Turkish Republic. They settled on the European side of the city in the vicinity of the Academy, the Istanbul University and the Technical University, as this was where they had their professional affiliations. However, there were exceptions: in Bebek, a former fishing village many kilometres from the historical centre of the city, an emigrant community developed, and traces of emigration can also be found on the Prince Islands.

For the first time, Russian- and German-speaking emigrants in Istanbul are represented in one archive. One finding of this is that even if there were not many direct relations between the different émigré communities, the city and urban matrix connected them. They shared the same residential district − today’s Beyoğlu − and left their traces in this neighbourhood and beyond.


German-speaking artists, photographers, architects and theorists who emigrated to London during the National Socialist era often worked in close exchange with the local intellectual and artistic scene. This archive presents selected actors, institutions, places, objects and events under the heading of a visual culture of exile across media and genres. The aim is not only to pay tribute to those who formed a node in the network of emigration and/or who have already received extensive attention. The archive also pays attention to those persons, who have so far been less in the focus of research, or who were active outside the emigrant associations. Institutions such as galleries founded by emigrants like the Hanover Gallery or publishing houses like Thames & Hudson, important contact points for emigrants like the Warburg Institute or patrons of artistic emigration like Herbert Read or Julian Huxley, are also addressed. Beyond that, the London archive also brings into light the contributions by female emigrants who were founders of galleries, publishing houses and photo studios, and who contributed to photo history and exhibited their photographs and paintings.

The archive draws lines between actors and objects, studios and residences, shows connections and cumulations of artistic and intellectual interactions in certain neighbourhoods such as Hampstead, around Finchley Road or Cork Street. Even if the relationships between emigrants and local artists were diverse and productive, the dislocation meant a caesura and a struggle for economic and artistic survival. Thus, the curated archive of the visual culture of emigration in London is an expression of the ambivalences of the experience of flight in the context of survival, struggle, artistic arrival and departure.

New York

New York was a hub for German-speaking émigrés working and acting on the photographic scene. As the number of emigrants arriving in New York during the first half of the 20th century was very high, this curated archive cannot aim for completeness. Besides persons, the archive will draw attention to art galleries, which represented important contact zones in supporting the local as well as the émigré photographic scene, photo agencies and photo suppliers, which were founded by émigrés and which were often starting points for a photojournalistic career in exile. Furthermore, exile publishing houses can be seen as economic and self-representative institutions, who opened the possibility for the creation of photobooks in exile. Educational institutions such as the New School for Social Research, were important places for the circulation of photographic knowledge and practice.

The curated archive illustrates how the émigré photo scene was interdisciplinary and institutionally linked; not only to the photographic, but also to the cultural, social and economic scene in New York. Therefore, the archive also reveals economic aspects as well as the worldwide circulation of images.

With the linking of the archive entries to addresses on the city map, the cumulation in a special street or certain area in Manhattan also allows – for the first time – for an analysis of where the émigré photo scenes were located and in which boroughs émigré photographers were living and moving around the city. Along with prominent photographers such as Andreas Feininger, Josef Breitenbach or Lisette Model, the archive also focuses on persons, institutions and galleries who have thus far received little attention and who were still invisible in the visual and cultural urban émigré life in New York.

As the work and life in exile was not only shaped by stable and safe times, the archive reveals instabilities, dynamics as well as fragmentary living and working conditions. The aim is to work with the different and heterogeneous patterns of exile existence in a transparent and critical way and to pay attention to missing links and lack of information. As the archive of New York represents a dense selection of visual photographic and photojournalistic material, much effort was made to clarify, indicate and link all copy rights. Thus, the images itself can be read as exile objects with own stories creating a visual archive of the emigration to New York during the 1930s and 1940s.


Especially because of the complex political and administrative situation in semi-colonial Shanghai, there was no effective visa control. The largest community of ‘floating people’−second only to the Chinese exiled, refugees and migrants − consisted of Russian speaking people who had fled their country in the wake of the founding of the Soviet Union in 1922. Around 1937–1941, about 20 000 European refugees fleeing Nazi persecution (estimates vary up to 30 000) reached Shanghai. The heterogeneous groups of refugees arriving from different places formed their own communities. The boundaries of opportunities ran along origin, gender, ethnic and social affiliation across the city; administrative responsibilities and legal contexts varied. With no or insufficient food and health care, the procurement of working materials was often out of reach. Nevertheless, despite the difficult circumstances and contrary to the often-shared perception, an artistic exchange among the diverse (émigré) communities took place.

Its history is fragmented and the artistic production is often judged to be insignificant, of low quality. However, in the spirit of the Eurocentric modernism narrative, such a perspective narrows the view. Instead of speaking of an ‘Emigration at the Margins’, one could just as well speak of an emigration into the middle; an emigration to a ‘Middle Kingdom’, to the fifth largest metropolis in the world, to a centre of conflicts caused by colonization and imperialism, and to a country whose culture and imagination contributed significantly to the formation of the modern language of forms in European cities. The archive gathers many protagonists, events, and objects that have received little attention thus far. As a work in progress, the archive uncovers connections beyond the various communities. It identifies nodes and edges of networks alongside political and economic negotiation processes, which still hold conflict potential. Further, it visualises and locates these structures on an imagined city map whose reef points are represented between the present and the layers of the past. The formation of artist groups, access to artistic supplies, the organisation of exhibitions, the selection of exhibition space and publishing houses, or the single motif captured in an image, tell many stories that do not convey a simple message but point to fractures and contradictions.