Artists on Coping: Robin Holder

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Art Spiel is reaching out to artists to learn how they are coping.

robin holder in her studio .jpg
Robin Holder

Robin Holder is a 2020 Clark Hulings Fund For Artists Executive Fellow. Her recent exhibit “Access and Inequities. I Hear You. Do You See Me?” featured works exploring identity conflicts. She has presented one-person exhibitions at the Mobile Museum of Art, The NCCU Art Museum, The Labor Museum, and The Spelman College Museum. She was awarded an Individual Artist Grant by The Brooklyn Arts Council as well as a Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Artist As Catalyst Residency. Holder has completed 5 public art commissions, and her work is included in significant collections including the Library of Congress and The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

AS: How are you coping?

RH: This pandemic is an extraordinarily layered global situation. A few of my professional activities have been rescheduled for the fall, but 80% of my contracts for exhibitions, lectures, panel discussions, and residencies have been canceled. Creatively I’ve been able to work consistently and am pleased with the imagery that I’m developing. I enjoy Zoom meetings, phone calls and Whatsapp chats, but there are times when I am very moody and don’t feel like talking. I’m tired of repeating and listening to the same reflections, projections and thoughts. I can’t seem to keep regular awake/sleeping patterns. I’m concerned about the emotional, spiritual and financial well being of my family members and friends. Nine of my colleagues have died, and the daily discovery of the deaths of so many people…most of them African Americans is heartbreaking. That hurts.

WE'RE IN IT TOGETHER FIRST RESPONDERS xray technician 2020  by robin holder .jpg

FIRST RESPONDERS: x-ray technician, from the series WE’RE IN IT TOGETHER, 2020

AS: Has your routine changed?

RH: I’m now based in my studio, which is large and on a small lake. I can move around and wave to neighbors safely from a distance. In that regard I am blessed to have the time, space and materials to stay safe and create. I drive into NYC once or twice a week to see family. I feel acutely the lack of being able to hug people and to be in their presence and directly share their energy. The necessary distancing and disinfecting protocols required to go food shopping are stressful so I try to make the most of each outing. I drive so I don’t have the anxiety of using public transportation or the cost of Lyfts and Ubers. I wonder if I will ever take the subway again.

WE'RE IN IT TOGETHER FIRST RESPONDERS nurse 2020 by robin holder  .jpg

FIRST RESPONDERS: nurse, from the series WE’RE IN IT TOGETHER, 2020

AS: Can you describe your feelings about all this?

RH: I am acutely aware that the reaction of the United States to this pandemic is a glaring reminder of the inequities in this country; how class, education and race are the factors that determine prosperity, good health, access to resources and well-being. Once more we see that blue-collar workers, people of color, lower wage earners, are the sacrificial lambs that keep the economy and lifestyles of the entitled possible. There is nothing new about this demonstration of racism and capitalism. The tragic lack of preparation, resources and federal coordination is yet another manifestation of American arrogance, ignorance and lack of consideration. The attitude of the entitled is historic and it is exhausting. I have friends, family, colleagues of many demographic profiles who are experiencing this COVID19 in a very, very, very wide range of circumstances. I admire those who go to work every day at great physical, mental, emotional and spiritual risk. I find the naiveté and remote attitudes about who is victimized and how they are suffering on the part of other colleagues and friends appalling.

No Chinese Allowed, Catholics Not Welcome 2019 by robin holder   50_ x 30_ colored pencil, acrylic paint, archival inkjet print .jpg

No Chinese Allowed, Catholics Not Welcome, 2019, 50” x 30” colored pencil, acrylic paint, archival inkjet print

AS: What matters most right now?

RH: Humility. Patience. Activation. Appreciation. And righteous rage. To daily express gratitude that that I am not suffering on the level that folks did in the German Holocaust and American slavery.

WE'RE IN IT TOGETHER FIRST RESPONDERS truck driver 2020 by robin holder  .jpg

FIRST RESPONDERS: truck driver, from the series WE’RE IN IT TOGETHER, 2020

AS: Any thoughts about the road ahead?

RH: I wonder about the “deep breath” the environment is taking due to limited human activity. I wonder what aspects of shifted protocols will stay with us and how we will move forward. Will societal infrastructures be reinvented to include realistic, useful and accessible resources in healthcare, quality education, living wages, rents, transportation and social services? I try to maintain a positive and motivated demeanor and trust that the creative, considerate, intelligent humane essence of society will prevail.

The work in this post ponders the awareness that in our extraordinary diverse community we consider ourselves informed, caring and compassionate. But how much do we actually know about the cultural, racial, class, religious histories, rituals, and beliefs of our neighbors, co-workers and friends? Can we put a face to the statistic of a particular victimized demographic? My work considers the question: What is it that we don’t know that we don’t know? Are we aware of the challenges, fears, entitlements, assumptions, tendencies and preferences of “Those” people? Why are Muslim folks viewed disdainfully? How are undocumented immigrant parents losing control over their family structures when their children navigate society? What inaccurate stereotypes are attributed to our Asian neighbors? Why are “White People” upset when accused of “gentrification”? How does racism manifest subtly and insidiously on a daily basis? Did you realize there are 33 Latin American countries each with a distinct history and culture? Why do some people speak louder when communicating with a person with an accent? What safety measures does a same gender couple need in place, why is there minimal socializing between blue collar workers and “highly educated” professionals? If we are all Americans how come there is so much polarization? And finally and firstly who ever even thinks about the Native Indigenous Americans?

I Am Hiding From ICE 24_ x 12.5_ by robin holder 2019  colored pencil, foil stamping, wood,  archival inkjet print.jpg

I Am Hiding From ICE, 2019, 24” x 12.5”, colored pencil, foil stamping, wood, archival inkjet print
Catherine Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer based in New York. She wrote the introductions to Meryl Meisler’s two books, and is currently working on an oral history about recent changes in photography.