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Student artists add politics to portraiture

An exhibit at Lesley University explores feelings about the current political climate.

In his 1994 hit “Juicy,” Biggie Smalls raps “If you don’t know, now you know.”

But on a portrait of the rapper in a new Lesley University exhibit, the line is changed just slightly enough to have a whole new meaning: “If you don’t know, you should know.

Rocky Cotard, a 20-year-old junior at Lesley, created the artwork for an exhibit called “REPRESENT: Politics and Portraiture.” His is one of 15 pieces on view until Feb. 21 at the Raizes Gallery at Lesley University’s Lunder Arts Center.

The exhibit prompted students to apply a personal political issue to a larger conversation, Lesley professor Matthew Cherry said.

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Cherry helped organize the student show as well as an accompanying exhibit called “Impolite-ic Politics.” That show will be just down the hall at Lesley’s Roberts Gallery and features three professional artists’ large-scale portrait paintings on political issues like LGBTQ rights and racial profiling.

“In the past, portraits were used to represent a person, to be a likeness for that person,” Cherry said. “But in the cases of these, the portrait is used to represent not just a person and what they look like, but an idea, a concept and a political narrative.”

Cotard, a 20-year-old junior at Lesley, said that he isn’t really “political.” Not to say that his artwork isn't’ serious, he said.

But just being a black male in America right now is political, Cotard knows. He’s been thinking about topics like police brutality, and how some people are ignorant of those issues.

“I feel like there are a lot of things people clearly have the avenue to know about,” such as police brutality, Cotard said, but “even though they’ve heard about it, they try to be ignorant. They try to act as though the problems don’t exist.” Theyshouldknow.

Moseh Tucker decided to offer to the exhibit a painting titled "King Mensa" or "King Vic," which he said is "both a commentary on today's influential figures within the African-American community and the lack of Black/African imagery in classic paintings."

"I tend to dive into my own subconscious when coming up with ideas for paintings," he said of his work.

Linda Danison, a 22-year-old Lesley graduate, painted her piece right after the presidential election. She remembered so many people on campus saying that they were going to leave the country if Donald Trump was elected.

“I felt really strongly that I didn’t want to be scared out of my own country or own home, a place where I have a right to be,” she said. “People should feel that way, not feel bullied by a scary time.”

Her portrait in the show is of a young woman who appears to be wearing a headscarf, the words, “This is my home and you can't scare me” overlay her image.

Cherry said that the show is diverse not only in the portraits’ subjects and mediums, but in perspectives, which is what can spur powerful discussions.

“The more people we add to the table, we’re able to have really broad conversations,” he said. “But if you’re excluding somebody because of race, a perceived weakness in gender, a perceived moral issue with sexuality, then you're excluding that diversity of thought.”

"REPRESENT: Politics and Portraiture" Jan. 26 to Feb. 21
Opening Reception: Feb. 9
Lunder Arts Center, Raizes Gallery
1801 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge

 
 
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