A Box for Woman: The Pure White Spirit Trapped in Her Space
A cascade of significations, growing more perturbing as they accumulate, awaits the viewer of Lonnie Holley's work in pink: A Box for Woman: The Pure White Spirit Trapped in Her Space. Viewers who can allow themselves to regard the pink box as a vaginal metaphor experience a visceral sense of defilement as they contemplate its contents. The inside of the box shows the same pink paint covering an assortment of bones and a needle-tipped syringe. These disturbing objects contrast with the only non-pink object on display—a white cross. Defilement of purity is one possible theme here, but alternative significations will suggest themselves to the viewer on the basis of other black-and-white color symbolisms. If "the pure white spirit" signifies the racial dominance of whites over blacks, then the white cross acquires a sinister force rather than indicating purity. In any case, only one who attends caringly enough to the "spirit trapped in her space" will be able to grant to the subject the kind of compassionate conjectures that will effectively rescue "her" from her box. (Is the woman an addict with spiritual sensibilities and aspirations? Is she a religious person whose "space" has been violated by death-dealing and poisoning environments and associates? Is she a "mothering force," encompassing in the womb of her regenerative power all that needs redeeming in the lives under her care? Or is she one of the many persons of color captive to a white cross—to ideological constraints that have even racialized Christianity? The neglectful or uninitiated viewer can simply ignore such conjectures, of course, but the work itself augurs more. Here the artist enlists, induces, and depends upon the viewer to join him in the conjuror's craft of "working the spirits" in order to make sense of the confluence of such objects as a cross and a syringe in "her space." The viewer's conjurational task, if one is capable of the exploit, is to transform what may appear to be a box of society's cultural and religious detritus into the transformative sublime.