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By Ellen S. Comerford

Sitting in the middle of the Tops Gallery of Niagara University's Castellani Museum are what at first appear to be three tepee- or tent-like objects.

But they are not tents. They are large women's skirts, all part of an exhibit titled "What Lies Beneath: An Installation by Sandra C. Fernandez."

The Tops Gallery is dedicated to the exhibition of work by local and regional artists.

Born in Queens in 1964, Sandra Fernandez spent her formative years in Quito, Ecuador. Currently living in Buffalo, she is an artist, writer and expressive arts therapist.

She has created murals for churches, businesses and private residences throughout Western New York.

Fernandez has turned from the intimate boxes and collages of her earlier work to these oversized skirts that the viewer can actually enter and become enveloped in. They address the personal experience of the artist, who believes that the past must be embraced in order to be liberated from it.

Fernandez confronts her own past, as well as that of the viewer seeking awareness and a kind of healing.

Each skirt represents a separate theme.

"Innocencia," with its children's transfer drawings and writings, represents abandonment as well as the emotional needs of a child.

The theme of "Dubitatio," with its eerie faces constructed of fabric, handmade paper and photographic transfer, represents adolescence.

"Experientia," constructed of handmade and commercial papers, paper quilting, machine stitching and embroidery, represents maturity, compassion, peace and wisdom.

The artist admits that she has always seen skirts as places to hide rather than objects to wear. They evoke motherhood, as well as a place to play hide-and-seek.

The exhibit encompasses three attitudes toward the world associated with aging, and each age presents its own challenges both inside and out.

Ellen S. Comerford is an artist and free-lance writer from Lewiston.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Sept. 21 2004