Artist Maxwell Emcays Explores Race and Class Issues in Meaning of Home in Virtual Art Exhibit

Chicago artist Maxwell Emcays makes a powerful statement with his exhibit,  Let Them Stay Home, in his new virtual art gallery. The exhibit features enhanced photographs of neglected homes on Chicago’s south side for the viewer to consider in the context of the COVID-19 Stay at Home order.

A COVID-19 report from Chicago’s department of public health indicates that black Chicagoans are dying at a rate nearly six times greater than white residents. The disparity in mortality tells us a story of unequal health care access, unemployment, drug abuse, undereducation, violence, and a lack of investment in these communities for decades. These 10 photographs explore racial and social class issues historically woven into Chicago’s fabric.

The stay-at-home measure unveils the disconnect between the upper class for whom “safety at home” and “working at home” are facts of life. But lower-class citizens, Emcays points out, do not share this privilege. Emcays uses his images to question our concepts of “home.”

Emcays embellishes the photos with images of his teddy bear character, Terrence, and digital media iconography. The pastel color palette is “intended to present a sense of childlike hope” and also refers to cakes and desserts in home celebrations. Emcays’ exhibit title—Let Them Stay Home—is intended as a retort to the notorious statement attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette at the time of the French Revolution. When told that the peasants had no bread, she said, “Let them eat cake.” The effect of the color palette and images presented in ornate gilded frames is eerie, yet poignant.

Maxwell Emcays: Headshot–Stay Home.

You can read Emcays’ artist statement and view the virtual art exhibit here through June 1. (The closing date may be extended.) Click on each image to enlarge it.

Emcays is using his charitable organization to donate proceeds from art sales to provide food and other necessities to the homes in the area where the photographs were taken. Additionally, the artist says he will work on art beautification projects to transform the physical decay of the homes and uplift the neighborhoods with the hope that one day “home” can have a universal meaning.

You can also watch Emcays’ Facebook Live interview with Chicago rapper Twista on what it means to “stay at home.” Watch it here.

Default image
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.

Leave a Reply

Plan Your Life with 3CR Highlights

Join Our Newsletter today!