Robin Holder

Lisa E. Farrington, Ph.D.

Issues of the artist's identity within the larger context of American politics are integrated into the prints at every turn. Portrayals of ingenuous schoolgirl activities are paired with images of racial unrest and social conflict. Included in the latter are visual references to death and the Holocaust (in the form of skeletal apparitions and stars of David), scenes of police intimidation, human violence, Ku Klux Klan gatherings, and the bound wrists of lynch victims. The artist's visual symbolism is further enhanced by the fact that certain scenes are rendered in grisaille—suggesting newsprint and black and white TV news reports. These monochromatic scenes depict the artist's impressions of American politics as absorbed through the filter of the media. Other vignettes—those infused with color—portray Holder's actual life experiences and her most intimate personal memories.

Another technique which Holder employs in "What's Black and White" is the use of text, in the manner of Conceptual Art. By including words with figural imagery, Holder elucidates for the viewer the labyrinth of her childhood. Racially charged terminology such as Half and Half, Mulatto Jew, Nigger Colored, Negro Spic, Black and White, and The Flesh Crayon are etched into the prints, and illustrate the extent to which identity politics shaped the artist psychologically, politically, and intellectually. The Flesh Crayon, for instance, references a particular moment in Holder's young life when, after receiving a coveted box of Crayola crayons, she opened the package and eagerly examined the colors therein—magenta, carnation pink, cadet blue, burnt orange, maize, aquamarine. When she saw the word "flesh" stamped on the paper wrapping of one of the crayons, she compared it to her own flesh and observed, with ingenuous frustration, "Whose flesh is this color?"22 The moment incited in Holder a lifelong antipathy for corporate entities like Crayola that measure all consumers by a Caucasian index.

In 1999, a year after the completion of "What's Black and White", Holder conceived of the series "Behind Each Window, A Voice", which was executed under the auspices of a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council and a fellowship from the Blackburn Workshop. In this series, Holder's gift for architectonic structure becomes evident, as does her facility for fusing diverse forms and textures to create a dazzling papier collé effect. The series comprises multiple techniques including stencil monoprinting, Xerox transfer, photo silkscreen, photo lithography, hand painting, and digital text—an astonishing array of methods, to say the least. Using images of urban building facades and cathedral-like windows to anchor each work, Holder filled the window frames and city settings with the faces and figures of people of varied races, ages, nationalities, and ethnicities who were emblematic of the diversity of New York City dwellers and their countless life stories.

Holder also "saturated" the series with storytelling.23 Each work includes tantalizing and inscrutable snippets of existentialist literary narratives that address the lives and concerns of the various characters in her visual dramas (many first generation American immigrants). The series was inspired by the oral histories of the artist's neighbors in Greenpoint, Brooklyn—a culturally, economically, and socially diverse and dynamic New York neighborhood, where the artist has lived for many years. Holder was especially enlightened by the stories of her neighbors which, as borne out by the text in each print, conveyed their unique identity conflicts and their modes of navigating and reconciling the cultural dissonances within their lives. To honor her neighbors and their experiences (which, not surprisingly, echo the artist's own), Holder presented each of her subjects (eight in all) with a unique print from the series that encapsulated their particular history.

"Behind Each Window" focuses thematically on the conundrum of human connections and the difficulty of making those connections. They address topics of ethnicity, gender, prejudice, environmental abuses, social protest, cultural isolation and misperceptions, and spirituality. One might consider the series a visual stream of consciousness which both documents the lives of the artist's neighbors and simultaneously invites viewers to perceive echoes of their own lives within the series' framework. Formally, "Behind Each Window" proffers an amalgamation of illusory building facades, marmorean surfaces, textures that replicate handmade linen paper, flat silhouettes, modeled forms, and three-dimensional elements such as paper window shutters that open and close. Likewise evident is Holder's fascination with, and thorough commitment to, "exploring the woven texture of diverse cultures within families, communities and societies, and at the same time... collaging, layering and mixing printmaking techniques."24