An Interview with Amber Robles-Gordon by Cara Ober
One of my favorite images from the most recent BmoreArt Journal of Art + Ideas features Myrtis Bedolla and Alex Hyman sitting in the front window of Galerie Myrtis in Baltimore. They gaze out toward a gorgeous stained-glass bowfront window up at a series of lively, rainbow-hued reedlike sculptures which dangle from the ceiling. There’s something intimate and seamless about this image despite the fact that it depicts an art gallery, which is typically a public space.
Perhaps it was the photo’s striking cohesion that caused an inadvertent omission of the artist’s name from the photo credits? (In addition co-curators of the exhibit, Lest We Forget, at Galerie Myrtis are Deirdre Darden and Jarvis DuBois) After making a regrettable error in print, I was thrilled to connect with Amber Robles-Gordon, the DC-based sculptor and mixed media artist whose work is featured in the photograph, not only to apologize but to delve much more deeply into her work.
Despite the mistake, Robles-Gordon was gracious and generous. The following conversation has been an opportunity to learn more about her practice – one that is simultaneously emotional and personal, yet formal and structured. Robles-Gordon uses all sorts of materials and symbolic, bold color to explore nuanced perspectives on hybridity, using the physicality of her materials to represent the challenges and celebration inherent in her own existence.
BmoreArt: Before settling in Washington, DC, you lived all over the world. Can you talk about how your family and upbringing has impacted your life as an artist?
My family is from the Caribbean – primarily from St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and Antigua, West Indies. I was born in Puerto Rico, raised in Arlington, Virginia, and have lived in Washington, DC for the last 20 years.
I am the oldest of two: my brother Alanzo Robles-Gordon and I are about seven years apart. By the time I was 12 years old, my parents were divorced. My father actively remained in our lives until I was 16 and my brother was about 4 years old. My brother and I were reluctantly indoctrinated to the cycle of being with our Dad every other weekend. My parents’ separation and then divorce tore away at my perception of bliss, of family, and of joy. Watching my mother, brother, and myself manage the cumbersome and overwhelming load of divorce was traumatic. Especially when you, as a 12 year-old, realize that infidelity was the primary reason.
It is my mother’s will and power that supported and nourished my authentic self. My mother, Carmen Robles-Inman, taught my brother and me that creating, writing, and self-expression were integral parts of one’s self and one’s family existence. She made sure to expose us to various visual art forms and cultural experiences. Additionally, through her love of people and languages, and her professional experiences as a public health specialist and social service practitioner, she made sure to envelop my brother and me in a patchwork of Afro-Latino, Caribbean, Central American, and American friends and loved ones.
Can you talk more about your multicultural roots and growing up outside of DC?
Growing up an Afro-Latina within the Arlington County school system during the 80’s was a challenging experience. I looked African-American, but did not act “black enough.” I talked “white” or spoke “too proper” and did not speak fluent Spanish and further did not look Latina. By nine years old I was already “developed.” I never needed make-up, I naturally looked grown. I was always one of just a few minority students within magnet programs from elementary to high school. The dichotomy of my Arlington county school experience made it hard to be multi-anything. I could not be a black girl and be smart or be a black girl and be pretty. I have countless memories of being challenged by for example white Arlington boys because I was assigned the same reading book as they were or in the same AP class and that just “could not be.”