Art exhibit emphasizes political climate, freedom of expression

Stacey Franciamore, Editor-in-Chief

The Iona College Council on the Arts and the New Rochelle Council on the Arts present “Unapologetically Me,” a virtual gallery exhibition and gallery talk by Alvin Clayton-Fernandes, an artist, model and restaurateur from New Rochelle, from July 1 to Sept. 30.  


Clayton’s art is influenced by Henri Matisse, a French artist from the 20th century who used abstract gestures and shapes as well as bright colors and expressive brushstrokes to depict human figures.  


Although Clayton is usually more reserved with his work for fear of what people will think, due to the political climate in the country he felt compelled to share this exhibit and face this fear.   


“I have been very safe for a long time with my art, and it’s beautiful art as told by a lot of people, and I paint what I love and what I’m passionate about, but there comes a time when the artist, if he has a platform, he has to use that platform for what is really important,” Clayton said.  


This exhibit’s theme is religion and politics but holds a greater significance to the artist.  


“This new body of work is me stepping outside of my comfort zone and finally just taking a time and not really caring what others feel or think or how they’re going to accept me. It’s just my expression. It’s one other layer of who I am as a person,” Clayton said.  


The exhibit includes a total of 24 paintings, each of which conveys a special message and expresses the artist’s personal feelings.  


In his piece, “Is Justice Blind?” Clayton depicts Lady Justice. A white boy and Black boy kneel in front of her to get justicebut she peeps through her blindfold to see who kneels before her. The canvas intends to convey that Black and white Americans are given a different level of justice and that the system is rigged.  


Another canvas, “Barack Hussein Obama,” is a canvas that celebrates the 44th president of the United States. Clayton shared that this piece represents how proud he was of America in 2008 when the first Black president was elected.  


Clayton depicts the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, in many of his pieces. “Head of the Republican Party” is a large canvas in which the head of President Trump is very prominent. According to Clayton, this canvas aims to highlight that we may think some things are beautiful, but if we start peeling away layers we will find the ugliness inside of them 


Many of the canvases depict other influential political figures such as Elijah Cummings, Lindsay Graham, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Nancy Pelosi. The paintings also touch upon other political issues and ideas such as fascism and immigration.  


For students, this exhibition is an opportunity to explore topics such as racial injustice and racial inequality  


Dr. Michelle Veyvoda of the speech communication studies department shared that she was deeply moved by the exhibition.  


“The artwork is stunning, but Alvin’s narration of the exhibit is what really drew me to his experience and the deeper meaning beneath each piece,” Veyvoda said in an email.  


Veyvoda is teaching Cornerstone class centered on the theme of justice and required her students to visit the virtual exhibit.  


“My Cornerstone class is paired with an ENT class, and it occurred to me that not only is Alvin a gifted artist but also a successful entrepreneur,” Veyvoda said in an email. “He owns a successful restaurant in New Rochelle. Because of that intersection, I thought it would be valuable to have Alvin speak both about his artwork and entreprenurial venture.”  


Clayton recognizes that this exhibit is not for everyone, but offers his perspective and that of many people close to him. Through this exhibit, he hopes to raise awareness and contribute to the critical issues and ideas of our time.   


“My only way of protesting was to go to my canvas,” Clayton said. “That’s my escape.” 


If you are interested in visiting the virtual exhibit, click here