In 1952 Geoffrey Holder took fifteen dancers from his Holder Brothers dance company to the first Caribbean Festival of the Arts in Puerto Rico. It was the first time he was not in an English-speaking Caribbean island and therefore able to see his native Trinidad in relief. There he met and saw artists and dancers perform from other parts of the region such as the great Haitian dancers Celestin and Jean-Léon Destiné. This festival served as Holder’s full artistic awakening as a Caribbean creative. From here on in, he would express an abiding faith in a creative process defined by crossing intellectual, artistic, geographic and conceptual boundaries in ways Caribbean people lived but perhaps took for granted. For Holder, learning to create in the fire of creolizing Vodoun beliefs and practices, Christianity, Buddhist theosophy, fine art histories and practices,, specifically painting, and notions of the folk in service to a sublime aesthetic opened his thinking in transformative ways. He was never the same.
While in Puerto Rico, Holder and his troupe auditioned for the American dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille and as result of this encounter, they were invited to New York to audition for Sol Hurok. The group arrived in NYC in the spring of 1953. Holder and his brother, the painter Boscoe Holder, who had arrived in NY a few years earlier before leaving for London. The Holder brothers were part of a new wave of Post WWII migrants from the Caribbean that made their way to global cities in the 1950s and 60s for greater opportunities. Taken by the energy of the city, Holder reflected on that time of arrival; “…I knew I could make it here. I just backed myself up against the wall and saw the whole thing and I knew that this was my place. I belonged here.”
Geoffrey Holder does not fit into a single disciplinary home, and as such, presents a problem of methodology. Though he viewed painting as the anchor for everything he accomplished, in the public eye he has historically been treated as a dilettante. This edited publication focuses on the life and work of Holder from his early years in Trinidad to his death in the city to which he belonged some sixty years after he first arrived. It seeks to engage the complexity of this figure and address what we see as an error of interpretation. Our aim is to generate new critical work and new methods to engage the full range of his practice as a painter, dancer, actor, choreographer, director, costume designer, photographer, collector and artist. The print publication and its accompanying digital platform will be focused on cultivating scholarship and a critical archive on the work of an interdisciplinary, African diasporic creative whose multidimensional practice constituted parts of a highly conscious vision.
We invite poets, writers, performers and scholars to engage and rethink the broad expanse of Geoffrey Holder’s life’s work and submit a current CV and chapter abstracts of no more than 500 words that address one of the themes listed below, or a topic of one’s own choosing. Draft chapters are not to exceed 7500 words.
Access to the Holder archives at Emory University, the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture and his estate in New York City will be facilitated for all selected writers during project development.
Deadline for Abstract submission: July 31, 2020
Notification of acceptance: September 18, 2020
First Drafts Due: July 16, 2021
ABSTRACT TOPICS INCLUDE BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO THE FOLLOWING • The concept of Caribbean and diasporic aesthetics in Holder’s work • Holder and 1952 Caribana in Puerto Rico • Trinidad arts in the 1930s and 40s – Geoffrey Holder; Beacon Group; Trinidad Arts Society • Artistic and life partnership with Carmen de Lavallade • Holder and de Lavallade’s work with Josephine Baker in the 1960s • Carl Van Vechten’s photographs of Holder and his family at the Beinecke Library at Yale • Various bodies of Holder’s artwork – Portraiture, Trinidad Murals, Paintings of women, Paintings of men – Photography projects Adam (published) and Eve (unpublished) – Collage work from his final years etc. • France as a creative space for Holder and other Black creatives (1950-1970) • Dance and choreography; ie. “Dougla” for the Dance Theatre of Harlem (Footage available) and relationship to Jean-Léon Destiné’s Slave (1949), Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham and Caribbean dance from the period • Historicizing Holder’s generation of global Caribbean creatives • Holder as a fashion designer and de Lavallade as muse (All dresses and photographs of Ms. de Lavallade in them are available for close examination) • Black male modelling in 1950s through Holder’s work for Vogue and GQ in the 50s • Work on the Broadway production of The Wiz – Place in the history and politics of black Broadway; Music; Choreography; Costume design; impact of AIDS on the black creative community of the period. • Broadway production of Timbuktu – Music; Dance; Costume; Eartha Kitt • Holder’s deep and abiding interest in Haitian culture. His friendship with Maya Deren • Selling the exotic: – Film work (Live and Let Die, Annie, Boomerang etc.) – Commercial and print ads • Holder as Art Collector: Haitian, African, Modern and Intuitive Art • Differencing the canon – Teaching Holder; Collecting Holder; Curating Holder
Email questions & submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Geoffrey Holder Project” in the subject line.