(Photo credit: Corcoran Museum) To the left is my favorite painting in all of the Corcoran Museum. Every time I see it, it seems more and more obvious to me that its title should be Unbowed (because of the focus on the leading male figure, standing and looking up at the North Star), but since it was painted in the 1930s by an African-American artist, it is not surprising it found its way into museum collections with a very different name: Into Bondage.
Its author, Aaron Douglas (1899-1979), played a major role in the Harlem Renaissance. He is well known for his murals as well as his long career as a dedicated teacher at Fisk University, and his modernist style is instantly recognizable. You can see some examples of his work on this website of a 2007 exhibition at the University of Kansas, Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist. The exhibition booklet is also very informative. My only regret is not to have been aware of it in the summer of 2008 when the exhibition found its way to the Smithsonian in DC.
Just look at the painting - at the Corcoran if possible, because the size of the panel does make a difference - and play Mahler's Fifth Symphony, especially the version recorded by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela - kids who've had their own challenges to overcome - while you're taking in the details. Tell me after that if there is any other name that comes to your mind than: Unbowed.