Two small, sweet looking toy bunnies sit atop a North American shaped platform, their bright colors shining in a friendly manner. But their positioning is critical.

Artist George Lorio’s show “Toy Politics” opened in Harnett Gallery on Thursday, following a short lecture given by him in the Gowen room. Pieces included in the gallery are constructed using retro toys that in themselves are old, nostalgic, and inanimate. The politics they comment on are anything but.

“Storytelling reflects my notion of what we should be thinking of as a society,” Lorio said, addressing the students and faculty who attended his lecture.

Lorio is a frenetic speaker, raising his voice and almost shouting at his audience only to quickly quiet his tone and mutter a remark about Trump and “his” wall a second later. Incorporating his lecture guests, Lorio not only described his own work but defined the terminology for beginner art students. He waved goodbye to those who left the show early and, when he lost his train of thought, he would bring both of his hands to his head and cling to his remaining hairs.

His lively speaking and encouragement of audience participation, paired with the images of dominoes, toy cars, and wooden bunnies, almost suggested an environment equipped for young children. The politics his art speaks on, however, does not.

“They’re aren’t the types of images that you’re going to put over the sofa or the coffee table,” Lorio laughed. “They’re a little off. A little off the edge.”

Pieces selected by the Hartnett Gallery committee were mainly constructed with toy cars, dominoes, and wooden block letters. Only upon closer inspection do you notice the incorporation of American flags, cannons, bombs, smoke, the word “killing,” among others evocative of violence.

“I think the images are dealing with content that is now,” Lorio said. “It’s just an easy way of slipping it in. I’m realizing it is a wonderful seduction to look at toys.”

Originally from New Orleans, Lorio said his career took him to the University of Texas in Brownsville, where his teaching experiences opened his eyes to both the political corruption across the Mexican border and the discrimination towards Latinx people in the U.S.

When asked what piece in Hartnett Gallery says this the most, Lorio mentioned Nopal con Espinas and his own experience about learning the Texan, Native Texan, and Latinx Texan cultures.

“[There’s this] public discourse that we need a wall,” Lorio said. “We have to keep ‘them’ out, because whatever. It’s terrible. And so, the idea of Nopal is so magical [to me]. When I was down there building this, I would ask people, ‘Is there any folklore connected with Nopal?’ And they said, ‘No, we eat them. We eat them with eggs.’”

Lorio’s work depicts Texas and the rest of the U.S. as a land that is rich in patriotism, conflicted by cultural diffusion, and ruled by laws restrictive to immigrants but liberal with weaponry.

For example, the University of Texas currently permits anyone on campus to carry a concealed handgun. Lorio’s years in Texas as a professor motivate him to speak out about the dangers of this legal entitlement. He does so through a language of wooden toys, bright colors, and WMD imagery.

“If you build relationships with people instead of bombing them,” Lorio said,  “you might end up friends.”

Currently, Lorio has work on display nationally, notably in the show “Fascism” in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and in another in Terra Haute, Indiana, in honor of Eugene V. Debs, whom Lorio called “the great American socialist.”

Lorio’s work in “Toy Politics” is on display in Harnett Gallery until Sept. 25.

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