Jamaica Center for Arts Center Showcases “The Genius of Geoffrey Holder”

Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning is showcasing a free exhibit through March. The exhibition reflects Holder’s preforming career. Photo Credit: Chereese Sheen

By Chereese Sheen

Black History Month is coming to an end, but the Geoffrey Holder exhibition at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL) has just begun. The exhibition, The Genius of Geoffrey Holder, will be on display until May 30.

The Genius of Geoffrey Holder is one element to the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning’s Black History Month Celebration. The month was filled with diverse programs at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, also located on Jamaica Avenue. The programs included dramatic readings, film screenings, and performances, such as last week’s one-time performance of The Wiz.

Before his untimely death in 2014 due to complications with pneumonia, Trinidadian-born Holder was a dancer, choreographer, actor, painter, singer, costume designer, and director.

The free gallery showcases visual art and photography that reflects Holder’s performing career, Tony award winning work as director and costume designer for The Wiz, and his contribution to the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Upon entrance to the dimly lit gallery, visitors are greeted with three life-sized portraits. Two of the photographs are of Holder in his early years as a performer, while the middle photograph shows an older Holder embracing his wife, Carmen de Lavallade.

Although the showroom and building were quiet, Trevon Turner, the front desk worker at JCAL said a decent amount of people have visited the gallery since its opening.

“There has been a good amount of big groups come in,” said Turner. “The larger groups are usually children on school trips.”

Turner attributed the emptiness of the building to public schools being on their mid-winter recess.

“Usually there is a lot of traffic due to the students who participate in the YMCA program upstairs,” said Turner, who has been a JCAL employee for six months. “Also, the students attend the [career] workshops during the week.”

The white walls of the William P. Miller, Jr. gallery are plastered with 25 frames that are all roughly the same size. Each frame was lit by a single, hanging light. Some of the frames encased photographs, while the others held newspaper articles and drawings.

The simple black-and-white photography went well with the overall color scheme of the room. The strong images were not just portraits of Holder, but glimpses into Holder’s personality, personal life, and charm. A few of the pictures showed Holder at rehearsal for his productions. Holder was captured interacting with all of his actors, from the leads to the chorus line.

Due to the community’s attendance at the exhibition, they seem to remember Holder’s personality and charm very well. According to a tally being kept by Turner, 114 people have visited the Holder exhibition since Feb. 6. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, the exhibition welcomed its largest crowd of 26 people.

“Most of the visitors are people who knew who Geoffrey Holder was,” said Turner. “You can tell that they appreciate [the exhibition] more. We get some wanderers who stop by off the street, but they usually don’t stay long.”

An article written by May Okon titled, “Trinidad Lad” shared a frame with Holder’s article, “That Fad From Trinidad.” Okon’s article followed Holder’s life from Trinidad and Tobago to New York City where he met fellow dancer and wife, Carmen. “That Fad From Trinidad” is an opinion piece written by Holder that explains the origin of Calypso music.

Holder’s Trinidadian culture has influenced his choreography and costume design for his productions. The noticeable use of feathers, and bright colors, in the costume drawings for The Wiz mimic the costumes worn by Trinidadians during Carnival.

Holder’s artwork was not limited to costume designs for The Wiz and his 1979 production of Timbuktu. In 2012, towards the end of his life, Holder was still creating original artwork out of recycled materials. The materials that were used often in his work were cardboard, colored tissue paper, and construction paper.

        The Genius of Geoffrey Holder exhibition is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday through Saturday.

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