Their stories travel a spectrum bordered by joy and desolation.
Radcliffe Bailey's "Voyage of No Return" falls on the melancholy side.
His is one of the pieces in the LSU Museum of Art's exhibit "Reflections: African American Life from the Myrna Colley-Lee Collection," which runs through Oct. 1.
The exhibit is a collection of works with African-American connections. Most were created by black artists, others by white artists focusing on African-American subjects.
Along with Bailey, the artists include Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, John T. Scott, Hale Woodruff, Ernest Crichlow and Eudora Welty.
In his piece, Bailey used old family photos, DNA and red Georgia clay to compose the shadowbox, which is part of his "Memories as Medicine" series. Its title refers to the Atlantic slave trade.
"Whenever you're sick, you go to the medicine cabinet," Bailey said of his work. "For me, I go to memory. The idea of memory heals me and takes me to another place."
"Voyage of No Return" focuses on a young African-American man peering out from behind a slave ship.
The printed gallery guide for the exhibit places Bailey's piece in "Memory & Place," one of three themes to help visitors look at the exhibit through a different lens. The guide's other themes are "Organizing & Activism" and "Collection Connection."
The show also has hands-on stations, where visitors can create their own show-related artwork along the way.
Probably the most popular station is found near the beginning of the show, next to a series of Bearden's colorful collages.
Bearden's work also is found in the gallery guide's "Memory & Place" theme and conveys a mood totally opposite of Bailey's piece. Bearden's use of fragmented imagery is more celebratory, representing not only everyday life but music and dance.
The hands-on station gives visitors a chance to create their own computerized, stop-action animated collage using fragments of magazine pages.
The stations were installed to complement this traveling exhibit of works belonging to the exhibit's collector, Myrna Colley-Lee.
Colley-Lee's collection represents things that have personally impacted her, from her personal connections to artists to her work as a costume designer in the black theater movement from the 1960s to the present.
Her collected pieces in "Reflections" primarily represent narratives and landscapes of everyday life, a common thread Bearden also found among other ethnic grounds and nationalities.
"I'm trying to explore in terms of the particulars of I life I know best, those things common in all cultures," says Bearden in the gallery guide.
Still, Bearden's work is specific, a look at his surrounding world from his childhood in Charlotte, North Carolina, to his adult life as an artist in Harlem.
His work is complemented by New Orleans' Scott, known for his kinetic sculptures but represented in this show by his own colorful collage of the city's first true jazz musician, Buddy Bolden.
Elizabeth Catlett's work also is featured. She is another artist with a Louisiana connection.
Catlett's work is most prominent in the guide's "Organizing & Activism" theme. She taught at Dillard University in New Orleans in the 1940s, arranging a field trip to the Delgado Museum of Art to see Picasso's works while there.
The Delgado is now the New Orleans Museum of Art, but it was closed to black people at the time. Her class saw the show on a day the museum was closed, and she later chaired Dillard's art department.
Catlett not only was an artist and teacher but also an activist.
Catlett eventually moved to Mexico, where she worked alongside such socialist artists as Diego Rivera. Her public sculptures can be found in Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans.
In "Reflections," her linocut print, "Soujourner Truth," seems to sum up Catlett's social philosophy. The piece depicts a black woman, head covered by a kerchief, standing behind an open Bible. Her face is work-worn, yet she commands respect as she points her index finger skyward.
"In 'Sojourner Truth,' I fought for the rights of women, as well as Negroes," she said.
Reflections: African American Life from the Myrna Colley-Lee Collection
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Through Oct. 1.
WHERE: LSU Museum of Art in the Shaw Center for the Arts, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge
ADMISSION: $5; free for ages 12 and younger, museum members and university students. Everyone is admitted free on the first Sunday of every month.
INFORMATION: (225) 389-7200 or lsumoa.org