“Successions: Traversing U.S. Colonialism” on Exhibit at American University Museum

“USVI Political” Mixed Media on quilt, (front) 2021, (Courtesy of Amber Robles-Gordon) 

Amber Robles-Gordon’s “Successions: Traversing U.S. Colonialism” has a dual purpose. It consists of her “Place of Birth and Breath” solo exhibit viewed first in her native Puerto Rico in 2020, and it has evolved into a component exhibit, which is an exploration of the historical underpinnings of U.S. Colonialism.

Amber Robles-Gordon (Courtesy of Amber Robles-Gordon)

Robles-Gordon is a mixed media visual artist whose solo exhibit at the American University Museum opened in August and can be viewed Fridays through Sundays, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. until Dec. 12.

What began as a quest, “to heal my five-year-old self: to empower her to fight for herself, her language and her culture,” the exhibition took on “the intersections of language, culture, institutional racism, anti-blackness and their immeasurable impact within the U.S. territories,” said Robles-Gordon.

A native-born Puerto Rican with family from St. Thomas, St. John, Puerto Rico, Tortola and Antigua, Robles-Gordon created a visual discussion of the historical and political plight and resilience of the District of Columbia, where she resides, and the five U.S. territories that her two-sided quilts represent. They embody the artist’s creation of a political study of the territories and on the reverse side, a spiritual and cultural study.

Robles-Gordon’s early love of art and creativity moved her delight with fabrics, quilts and found objects to the discovery that these could and would be her artistic narrative.

“USVI Spiritual, Moko Jumbie: Walk Tall and Heal Forward” Mixed Media on quilt, (back of “USVI Political”) 2021 (Courtesy of Amber Robles-Gordon)

A writer uses words to express; my medium of expression is my art, she said. “I use a myriad of materials according to what I’m trying to convey in a particular project or a particular narrative. It’s very essential that I match up with what I’m trying to convey,” Robles-Gorden said.

The decision to dismiss her native language, Spanish, came as a result of the teasing and ridicule Robles-Gordon experienced as a five-year-old kindergartener at her school in Arlington, Virginia, far away from her birthplace of Puerto Rico. She did not look like a Latina girl that was familiar to her classmates, and hence developed the bullying of this little brown-skinned girl.

In time, Robles-Gordon realized the importance of embracing her language and her culture and the need to find ways to heal through her research and employ it through her art as the medium on her journey to healing.

Speaking of her years as an artist, Robles-Gordon’s journey toward healing is what she brings creatively in her discoveries about U.S. Colonialism, “I think that it’s a beginning. There’s not an end to my journey. It’s a part of my journey. I think I’ve done a hell of a job in starting it. I actually feel proud about it in my own life. That feels good,” she said.

Robles-Gordon made the universe know how important this part of her journey is. “I think I’ve done that,” she said.

“Successions: Traversing U.S. Colonialism” exhibits the component of Robles-Gordon’s body of work containing six quilts embodying the Commonwealth of the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa. The other component, “Place of Birth and Breath,” is the collage on canvas series created in 2020 and exhibited at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon, (University of the Sacred Heart) in Puerto Rico.

“Place of Birth and Breath” is Robles-Gordon’s 10 mixed-media collage canvases that are a result of the visit with her mother to Puerto Rico where both women recaptured their roots, one of her childhood home, and the other of her birthplace.

“Isla del Encanto” collage, 18×24, 2020. (Courtesy of Amber Robles-Gordon)

A foundational symbology of the “Birth and Breath” body of work is the rubber tree that grows on the campus of the University of the Sacred Heart, which Robles-Gordon was introduced to while in Puerto Rico. “This tree appeared to be a literal fusion of past, present and future states of creation or sustaining an ecosystem. Throughout the series, are abstracted representations of the rubber tree – an entanglement of strong roots – as an example of its resiliency this tree most recently stood-fast to its native soil while 155 mph winds battered the campus,” Robles-Gordon noted.

Robles-Gordon shares her intricate ideas of how she layered her work depicting and interpreting the transitions of day to night and night to day. She relates to three major ethnic/racial groups – the Taino, the Spaniards and Africans, the stranglehold of the United States and the impact of the Caribbean Sea with its threat of hurricanes, scorching summer heat and lush landscapes.

Successions: Traversing U.S. Colonialism at American University exhibition closes on Dec. 12. The journey continues. The conversation continues. The healing continues.

See Amber Robles-Gordon’s website here.