Pierro Gallery presents artistic spin on the presidential election

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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — “Pol!t!co: (Do) You Know Your Place?” — an artistic take on the presidential election — will run from Wednesday, Nov. 2, through Saturday, Dec. 3, at the Pierro Gallery in the Baird Center, 5 Mead St. in South Orange. The will be an opening reception on Wednesday, Nov. 2, from 7 to 9 p.m.

“Know Your Place,” an idiom often used to keep people from challenging the status quo, seems particularly relevant in this election cycle just as one national party has for the first time in U.S. history nominated a woman as a candidate for president while the opposing party’s nominee stands charged with racism, bigotry and misogyny. Curators Raleigh Ceasar and Sandy Martiny investigate the ways artists have responded to the election issues regarding race and feminism. Artists include Aileen Bassis, Luis Alves Collage, Ronald Freeman, Evelyn Graves, Ruth Hardinger, Nette Forne Thomas, Trix Rosen, Florence Weisz and Charmaine Wheatley.

The show as a whole addresses the theme from both the political and the personal stances of each individual artist. Local talent Forne Thomas is represented in the show by a series of amazing drawings, paintings and objects that muse on the generational perspective of the “Know Your Place” mentality. She says her work is “representative of African American families who were expected to ‘know their place.’” She concludes, “In the final analysis, I see that accepting someone’s contrived constraints as ‘your place’ restrains individuality with a negative effect on society as a whole.”

Looking into the immediate present toward a more inclusive future, a photograph of an antique doorway to the ladies room at Ellis Island is transformed by artist Rosen.

Artist Wheatley’s work, “30% Of Buffalo… Is Functionally Illiterate” features tender and insightful portraits in comic book form of adult learners and tutors from Literacy Volunteers of Western New York and Erie County, whose stories provide insight into how the ability to read can impact lives.

Alves Collage is another local artist who has been scratching his head for a while, trying to make sense of our world as presented by news headlines and advertising. A short list of Alves Collage’s recent exhibitions reads like a laundry list of collective anxiety; “A Man’s World,” “The Opposite of Hate,” “Identity” and “Exposure” are just a few of the shows he’s been in this year that explore anxious feelings. The works in “Know Your Place” are no exception.

Hardinger is both an artist and an environmental activist. Her beautiful photographs of life in a country pond span four seasons. She says of her work, “It’s already over-time for the feminist heart in all of us to listen to Mother Earth. We need to take much stronger direction. This must be a change that many — and hopefully all — will participate in.”

The local community is well aware of artist Weisz’s prolific and lovely compositions. But not everyone knows she has been making election-based collages every four years since 1980. This year is no exception. She has created an interactive collage of the two mainstream 2016 candidates for this exhibition.

Graves uses collage technique to compose complex images of jazz musicians that speak to a time when black entertainers suffered both danger and indignity to perform their work. She says this election cycle makes her fear we are going backward as a society. She is not alone. Freeman presents art lovers with “Nine Lives,” consisting of nine individual charcoal drawings on 12-inch-by-11-inch wood boards in the shape of a cross. Each image is a portrait of a person who was killed in the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre on June 17, 2015. Bassis will present several works that she made in reaction to powerful incidents that illuminate contemporary racism in America.

Whether hopeful or revealing, all the works in the show have a strength and beauty that reflect the human dignity of those who question the status quo.

This collaborative exhibit showcases four local arts organizations: the South Orange Performing Arts Center, The Pierro Gallery of South Orange, Arts Unbound and Valley Arts Firehouse Gallery. This four-part exhibition gives artists a voice in some of the sizeable issues that inform the 2016 presidential elections. The exhibitions can be enjoyed separately, as well as in conjunction.