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Geoffrey Holder: Prismatic Blackness

Introduction by Erica Moiah James, PhD

Geoffrey Holder does not fit into a single disciplinary home, and as such, presents a problem of methodology in the academy. Throughout his career Holder consciously mobilized a prismatic approach to global black arts. His work as a painter, dancer, actor, choreographer, director, costume designer, photographer, collector and author, attests to his incredible range and talent as a multimodal, interdisciplinary artist.

However, because of his artistic range, Holder has often been dismissed as a dilettante, and his seminal accomplishments in multiple areas of the arts undervalued and understudied. But without him, the full history of American and African American dance, the history of Black Broadway, the history of American and Caribbean figurative painting (particularly the political histories around representations of the Black body), histories of global Caribbean modernisms, histories of blackness in American cinema, cannot be fully told.

This project views the lack of scholarship on Geoffrey Holder as a systemic error in the academy, an error in interpretating artists like Holder whose work exceed the disciplinary frames that make knowledge visible. This project seeks to reimagine the limits of these frames. It reengages Holder in a manner that crafts new intermedia and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of African Diasporic arts, through the development of a print publication and this accompanying digital platform intended to be deeply resonant with the process of archiving, archival access, cultural memory, and the production of history.

The project centers on the process of cultivating new public scholarship and the development of more accessible critical Black archives that illuminate Holder’s full range as an exceptional painter, dancer, actor, choreographer, director, costume designer, photographer, collector, and artist. It works to reestablish Holder as an African Diasporic creative whose multidimensional practice constituted a highly conscious vision of our world while providing the critical and methodological architecture for a more prismatic study of global black arts.

Geoffrey Holder, 1974, photo by Michael Tighe