Pulling on the Root
The tensions present in Lonnie Holley's sculpture Pulling on the Root convey a twofold attitude toward the metaphorical potency of the root and root sculpture. As with many other contemporary African American root sculptors, Holley retains some knowledge of the heating or purgative properties associated with roots in folk medical prescriptions, but for him it is in fact the dimness of the rootwork tradition, the attenuation of the practice and beliefs, that gives it its artistic power. That which is half-forgotten retains a transformative, haunting power. The root is not simply symbolic of the past; it is for Holley symptomatic of the ongoing psychological sloughing of practices and attitudes (rootwork) disclaimed for their assumed superstitiousness or obsolescence. The root is the past and a changing stance toward the past. One might say that Holley is requalifying or updating the traditional faith in the mystery of the ancestors when he embeds a root in one of his works.