In Her Own Words:

A Conversation with Artist Robin Holder and Curator Dorit Yaron

So growing up in the Upper West Side at that time was a fascinating environment for me. One of the things that happened was that people were not able to correctly categorize my identity. I think a lot of people thought that I was a Latino person—Puerto Rican, or Dominican, or Cuban. There were a lot of families at the time in that neighborhood who were from the Caribbean. I was always in some kind of a venue where I was either the only or one of a very few brown skinned people. I found out when I was very young that people were curious and confused by defining who I was. That had a lot to do with the way I started watching people; the more I moved around in the City, the more independent I got, and the more I noticed that people could not figure out what I was; they were curious about me.

DY: Your art includes a lot of layering of identities that you experienced.

RH: There are all these layers, stages, or elements that I was living; and any venue that I was in had only a small amount of those realities involved. So I was always bringing more consciousness into the situation, in the sense that I represented different identities. For example, when I was a student in junior high school, girls were not allowed to take shop classes (carpentry and woodworking). So my mother found a venue at the Jewish Y, the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association on 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue, so I could go and take a shop class. I was maybe 12 years old, and I was the only girl who took this class. When I was in the accelerated program in junior high school, maybe there were only three people of color there, and of those three, I was probably the only biracial person. So I always had a little more in terms of ethnic, religious, political or gender reality than the group.

DY: I found this issue of being One of a Few as very universal yet very critical to understand who you are. One of your images from your autobiographical series "What's Black and White and Red All Over? An African American Russian Jewish Red Diaper Baby" is titled, One of a Few, 1997. In the Center's Arts and Education Program, which we will discuss later, we often looked at this image and I have noticed that many of the students identified with it because I believe that each one of us has felt, at one point in our lives, what it means to be One of a Few.

RH: You can be the only thin person in a group; the only person who sings in a group; the only person who is bisexual; you can be the only person who speaks Chinese. That feeling of being One of a Few, I think, is part of living in the United States of America. And it's part of living in a complex global landscape of humanity. What it means is that you are moving outside of your origins, that you are socializing or working beyond where you started. I think it can be disconcerting, but it's a wonderful opportunity to observe other people; to listen to other people; to reflect on yourself; to reveal yourself or not reveal yourself. But it's also one of those opportunities that really can be a bridge if you don't get stuck in the conflicts that it can present, and it carries a certain responsibility as well.