Robin Holder

Lisa E. Farrington, Ph.D.

Holder's exhibition record is no less impressive. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally at, among many venues, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Artist's Space, the Brooklyn Art and Cultural Center, Baruch College, Parsons School of Design, and Kenkeleba Gallery (all in New York); at the Art Institute in Boston; the Los Angeles Design Center; California State University; the University of Tennessee; the Dallas Museum of African Culture; and at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Her international exhibition credits, likewise distinguished, include the Gallery Elva in Stockholm and the Guayaquil Municipal Museum and Esmeraldas Casa de la Cultura (both in Ecuador).30 In addition, Holder's art can be found in an array of esteemed private and public collections such as The Library of Congress, The Washington State Arts Commission, The Schomburg Center, Con Edison, Xerox Corporation, Drexel Bank, United Parcel Service, and 3M Corporation.31

Currently, Holder works assiduously in her rustic New Jersey studio, where she puts in ten to fourteen hour days several times a week, creating works on her etching press. She continues to be engaged in causes and organizations which she finds politically and socially vital. For example, Holder participated at the turn of the Millennium in "Entitled: Black Women Artists," an artists' collective which was founded in 1996 by Howardena Pindell, Carolyn Martin, Nanette Carter, and others, to expand professional opportunities for women artists of color.32 Holder's ongoing engagement with contemporary social politics continues to inform her work as well. During the past year, in an elegant print and stencil series entitled "My Beautiful Red Dress" (2007-08), she traces consumer items back to the source of their production—child labor and sweat shops in Mexico, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, China and elsewhere around the globe. Introspective by nature, Holder chose as her subjects consumer items that she herself purchased, and in which she delights—chocolates in Chocoholic Dreams; a red silk dress in the title print; rare DVDs in I Love Foreign Films; and a brushed nickel trash can in Brushed Nickel Is So Elegant. According to Holder, her research on the manufacture of these and other low-cost products which Americans consume so voraciously revealed labor abuses and exploitation so severe that she temporarily terminated work on the print series. Holder found her own culpability as a consumer nearly impossible to reconcile with the sweat shop sources for most consumer products, and with the human misery and poverty these products signify.

Professionally, Holder has plainly traveled a road that diverges from that of many of her fellow artists. She forsook the academy for the more rigorous workshop and atelier experience, which afforded her the advantage of broadening the scope of her aesthetic vision side-by-side with contemporary masters.33 Supported by arts and cultural institutions, her teaching positions in the New York City Public School system is further evidence of her uncommon trajectory, given that most teaching artists prefer to situate themselves at the college level. Holder chose instead to focus much of her attention on creating art for, about, and with children—extending her involvement beyond the classroom to institutions such as the Children's Museum of Manhattan; and to the design and enhancement of communal children's indoor and outdoor spaces.

Another artist who, like Holder, atypically expended much of her creative energies on children is the painter-quiltmaker Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), who taught elementary school for eighteen years before taking a university position. Once while comparing the art of children to the innovative abandon of modern art, Ringgold said that "children are the best" because they are completely uninhibited in their aesthetic expression and have yet to be constrained to "stay inside the lines." According to Ringgold:

I attribute a lot of my learning to paint to teaching children....Think of Marc Chagall...; think of Joan Miro...; think of Picasso...; Those people know what I'm talking about because they have obviously achieved it as mature artists—the freedom that children have in painting.34

Holder shares with Ringgold this appreciation for the ability of children to operate outside of established instructional boundaries that oblige artists to emulate masters and to abide by pre-established aesthetic canons. Holder eschewed conventional fine arts training because she fully understood the impediments to creativity, independent thinking, and experimentation that the academy had the potential to foster.