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Images and series of images that tell a story or allude to one.

Norman Messenger

In this lushly illustrated encyclopedia, author and illustrator, Norman Messenger, tells us about a fantastical island where hybrid creatures live among scary animated landforms and surreal plants. He recounts how he visited the island, how the island picks up and moves around, and how it magically disappeared when he turned his back. This is an imaginative story from the world of dreams written and illustrated in the style of natural history museums. Messenger, N. (2012).

Scott Musgrove’s work is funny and fantastic, but it has a serious message. His topic is extinct imaginary animals he dug up in a parking lot. Through this whimsical theme, he alludes to animal extinctions due to environmental degradation while indulging our current obsession with big-eyed and cute cartoon critters. (

Working like a writer, Toyin Ojih Odutola’ often creates imaginary stories that play out through a series of densely patterned portraits arranged like episodes or chapters. Drawing on a broad range of references, from ancient history, to her native Nigeria, to popular culture, to contemporary politics, Toya Ojih Odutola encourages the viewer to piece together the fragments of the stories that she presents.

The stories of two aristocratic Nigerian families (the Omodele and the Uma Eze Amara) were invented by the artist and memorialized in exhibitions of family portraits (Testing the Name; When Legends Die; A Matter of Fact). These portraits illustrate the families’ wealth, prominence and privileged lives, thus challenging Black stereotypes and revealing ideas of who merits artistic representation. How many exhibits feature aristocratic white families in the high halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for instance, and how often do we ask ourselves why?;

Faith Ringgold tells stories in her quilts about the African-American experience. Tar Beach (on the left) is one of a series of paintings about Ringgold’s childhood in New York. On the right is a quilt from the French Collection Series portraying a family dancing in the Louvre.

Luigi Serafini 

Surrealism and mystery meet natural history, anthropology and storytelling in Serafini’s Codex.  Based on a cryptic Medieval tome, the Voynich Manuscript, this is an encyclopedia of a fictional land full of surreal hybrid creatures, fantastic architecture, various indigenous peoples and preposterous plants. The pictures say it all because the language the manuscript is written in is inscrutable. Like its predecessor, the Codex challenges us to make up the story, to fill in the blanks.