Homeland Insecurity (2006) 6-piece place setting for four Sgraffito on slip cast ^6 porcelain Variable dimensions Collection of the National Art Gallery, Barbados
Caroline Holder was born in England in 1964, to a Jamaican mother and Barbadian father, with the family returning to Barbados when she was four years old. Upon graduating from Queen’s College, Holder went abroad to pursue Design and Painting at York University in Toronto, followed by Art Education at McGill University in Montreal. She ultimately relocated to New York City in the early 90s where, save for a two year break to complete an MFA in Craft from NSCAD University, Nova Scotia, she has maintained a consistent studio practice while simultaneously teaching art at the Professional Children’s School.
Holder’s primary medium is clay, from which she creates ceramic object-sculptures combined with drawings and text. Her influences include a background in printmaking, a love of pen and ink drawings, experiences of intersectional identity as a Caribbean immigrant in North America, and most recently the life-altering experience of late motherhood. Holder has been showing since 2002, most recently at Clay Art Center in Portchester, NY and Carifesta VII, in Barbados. She has received recognition for her work, in scholarships, awards and nominations, with an exhibition record which includes shows across the US, Canada and the Caribbean.
I left New York City to study in Nova Scotia in 2001; my first day of classes was September 11. When I returned to New York two years later I was in prime position as an “outsider” to observe the enormous psychological toll; the world had become less safe and we less certain of our place in it. Fear cast a thin layer of dust over the city. I found it particularly poignant to see the burning towers recurring in the drawings of my young students two years after the tragedy occurred. These, alongside the ubiquitous advertising campaign, “If you see something, say something,” and police presence everywhere compelled me to develop this installation.
The nuclear family together at dinner has traditionally symbolized a secure, desirable social norm. A dinner set serving disturbing images at the site of the eating ritual was an excellent vehicle to address the discomfort that infiltrated homes post 9-11. Each setting comprises a dinner plate, a salad plate, a soup bowl, a cup and saucer and a tumbler. The tale of personal unease begins on the dinner plates, each showing a child’s drawing of a house. The drawing is stereotypical in every aspect save for the burning plane flying into the house. On the back, children’s blocks spell WMD (weapons of mass destruction). The salad bowls bring us to governmental surveillance, with phones that have been “tapped”. Conversations flow from the devices, for the most part stunningly banal. The foot doubles as the ring of a magnifying glass, zooming in on streams of meaningless patter.
People spy on their neighbours from behind the curtains in the soup bowls, in response to “If You See Something, Say Something,” the refrain on their outsides. Underneath are once-innocent, weaponized items like nail scissors and backpacks. The teacups and saucers enter vigilante territory as we start to suspect our nearest and dearest. The cups whisper, “Yo mamma is a terrorist,” and the saucers respond, “So turn the bitch in.” The text is a slap in the face as respected family members fall under suspicion. Finally on the tumblers everyone is accusing everyone else.
Note: Caroline Holder’s work can be seen in the permanent “living room” display at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, where it engages in provocative dialogues with the colonial-era furnishings.