AN UPCOMING EXHIBITION at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), which features works by artists Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas and the late Robert Colescott, reexamines history painting as an art form used to represent past narratives. Figuring History offers a retelling of America’s past through the African-American perspective, largely absent from the genre.

For SAM’s modern art curator Catharina Manchanda, the vision for a cross-generational conversation always included Colescott, Marshall and Thomas, whose pieces call...

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