For and About the People: Robin Holder 

by Halima Taha

Do you have hope for the future?  Do you think American lives are more important than the lives of  people from other nations? Do you think your basic rights are being eroded?  Do you think a society where one out of nine young black men are in prisons is acceptable? Does cultural identity  mean that it contradicts the national identity of citizenship? These are some of the questions that many Americans are asking about the United States during  Donald J. Trump’s presidency. They are also the same questions that Robin Holder explores as part of a process for her artistic activism in Access & Inequities. I Hear You. Do You See Me? 

No Chinese Allowed, Catholics Not Welcome 2019 by Robin Holder 50_ x 30_ colored pencil, acrylic paint, archival inkjet print

The ideal of people from seven continents living in the United States as social equals has always drawn its greatest  power, not from legislature or legislation, but from individual sincerity and symbolic action—not  from the Supreme Court landmark decree that separate is inherently unequal in the Brown vs Board of Education decision in 1954, but  by the brandishing image of national Guardsmen escorting tender faced black high school students through a venomous crowd of white bigotry and fear.   Perhaps this accounts for the powerful visual impact of the contradictions in America’s relationship with black and brown people, that enables the work of  Robin Holder to connect diverse audiences. Her innovative, integrated and layered use of monoprints, photo lithographs, linoleum block, serigraph, stencil, foil and  transfer printing with painting, drawing and collage presents an accessible vocabulary for cultural and social literacy. 

Access &  Inequities.  I Hear You. Do You See Me?  is comprised of 35 works on paper that summon viewers to reflect upon the American ideal which posits a society in which everyone gains personal freedom and opportunity by trading their individual ethnic identity for a national identity. Holder contends both distinctions can simultaneously remain intact. When citizens pause, interact, and consider how mortal similarities and differences critically strengthen communities, they shape a world that encourages inclusion and a greater humanity.

Irish Need Not Apply, No Negroes, No Dogs by robin holder 2019 50_ x 30_ colored pencil, acrylic paint, archival inkjet print copy

Holder’s work challenges power hierarchies through a dynamic and thoughtful practice that incites responses to encourage people to make compelling intellectual shifts, resulting in honest interactions. People begin to listen, see and accept one another from a place of self-reflective understanding. This exhibition includes select works from three ongoing thematic series. Set on a global stage, upon which human behavior is featured with dramatic conflicts in the characterizations of equity, race, class, ethics, language, privilege and citizenship. Holder states “My work is motivated by my multi-cultural background, in which layers upon layers of  various racial, economic and spiritual worlds exist within one family.”  

The series Behind Each Window: A Voice explores which foreign born residents  become the entitled Americans and who remains the disenfranchised.  These works are informed by oral biographies with Holder’s Brooklyn neighbors. They struggled with having to adapt and alter their own traditions in order to assimilate  into a new American culture. What is it about immigrants to America that makes them more or less valuable to this country and its citizens? Is it the color of their skin, religious beliefs, suffering or lack thereof?  Are immigrants more valuable to the people they left behind or less valuable to the cultural heritage of a new country that has benefited from their labor, ideas and culture?

Equal Under the Law_ from USA The United States of Anxiety 2018 by robin holder 36_ x 35_ colored pencil, acrylic paint, archival inkjet print

In the USA -United States of Anxiety series, Holder creates lopsided  houses as a metaphor for the deterioration of a balanced and integrated country.  The distraught faces reflect the fear, confusion and depression of its inhabitants grappling with the unsettling reality of losing or being unable to attain the American dream. Holder wants you to  pay attention to the complexities that delineate income, education, race and power. These social lines of demarcation are juxtaposed with daily inequities  that reflect the necessity to attain freedom from strictures of class, gender, race and history.  

The  Falling  Figures series addresses the  current decline of civilization and how humanity is losing its grasp on this reality. Figures plunging  away from healthy values that characterize a civil society is analogous to barbarism and anomie. Corporate and big pharma greed, poor education and health care, mediocrity and status quo has overwhelmed people. Poor, working class and the nearly middle class are fighting amongst themselves over race and religion, despite being pushed out of  neighborhoods, schools, and services because they can’t afford them. The provocateurs have successfully distracted them from the essential issues for survival, as they continue to destroy families and communities. Eroding human dignity aka terrorism, is a new American pastime directed at immigrants and citizens.  These American terrorists are Christian white men, not Muslim, brown or black people. These hurtful and elite biases are based on irrational fear, blind ignorance and the belief that everything contrary to an arrogant Eurocentric worldview has no validity.

We Are Here 2019 by robin holder 54_ x 44_ colored pencil, acrylic paint, archival inkjet print

Holder’s picture narratives are infused with the substance and integrity that her subjects command.  Using her ideas and materials as a catalyst for dialogue is her greatest strength because her work inspires people to change their communities from the influences of the worst societal injustices.   The work of muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfonso Siqueiros colored her approach to imagery with political undertones to change unacceptable conditions of inequity between rich and poor people.  Holder, like many American artists of African descent, felt a profound affinity for everything the Mexican muralists expressed from the need for equality to the longing for cultural completeness.  

Herein lies a prime example of how artistic activism functions as an expression of affect. The power of the imagery motivates people to overcome seemingly impermeable socio-political and moral barriers so they can successfully remap society’s pernicious patterns with a healthy blueprint. This affect in artistic activism combined with activism mobilizes change with effect and becomes a powerful tool to communicate social, civic and economic ideology to engage dialog. 

To this end, Holder’s work validates paradoxical ideas in which she can meld two or more views, events, or concepts that briefly appear inconsistent, absurd or contradictory.  Together they operate as distinct continuing forces that are aspects of one reality. This consciousness is aware of duality and difference, yet she does not differentiate one concept as being qualitatively distinctive from another. Her thinking is paradoxical like a mirror that presents a kaleidoscope of simultaneous, inclusive and divergent realities that are exposed by her inquiry, “Do you See Me?” 

Holder’s  focus on memory, language and identity, juxtaposed with the effects of  global migration and the politics of civil, cultural, economic and gender wars, nourishes universal concerns that challenge notions of  what it is to be civilized.   

Halima Taha, writer, arts & cultural strategist and author of  Collecting African American Art: Works on Paper and Canvas.

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For more than twenty years, Halima Taha continues to contribute to the field as an appraiser, art advisor, educator, and speaker. Author of best-selling book, Collecting African American Art: Works on Paper and Canvas (Crown, 1/99 and Verve Editions 1/05) and Three Decades of American Printmaking: the Brandywine Collection (Hudson Hills Press, 10/04), Halima is a highly sought media personality and consultant.Her experience includes her leadership as an arts advocate and spokesperson, lecturer, former Managing Director and Art Gallery Owner, specializing in 20th Century art and photography. She has broad experience in every facet of the art world. Interested in project-based work including project management, strategic planning, collection management and contributing to exhibition catalogs and books. She is an adjunct member of the Bloomfield College faculty.

Specialties: African American visual culture and Photography

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