Donna Haraway uses the artwork of Lynn Randolph to illustrate her books. This statement does not capture the depth and beauty of what happens when Haraway and Randolph work together. Their relationship is collaborative, co-conspiratorial even. Randolph’s work far exceeds illustration; Haraway uses it as speculative fiction, as a site from which to theorize. Randolph is a feminist and environmental activist who lives and works in Houston, Texas. Her artwork reminds me of Frida Kahlo. It is self-referential, colorful, and frequently body-focused. She calls her style “metaphoric realism.” This naming captures the ironic vision that animates Haraway’s approach.
The exhibition catalogue that accompanies Randolph’s 1998 exhibition at Arizona State University’s Art Museum, entitled “Millennial Myths,” is an excellent resource but difficult to find. The catalog was written by curator and art author, Marilyn A. Zeitlin, and it has three essays, including one by Haraway entitled “Living Images: Conversations with Lynn Randolph.” In the opening to this essay, Haraway describes the impact of Randolph’s work on her:
Lynn Randolph’s paintings infiltrate the fibers of my flesh and spirit. I mean this statement literally. Randolph’s powerful figures protect, haunt, incite, soothe, instruct, and trouble me. Where I write, where I sleep, and where I eat, my daily life is suffused with the figures and stories that structure Randolph’s relentlessly narrative vision. Her metaphoric realism is, for me, a primer for the multilayered visual competence needed in the late twentieth century. To see these paintings is to learn, in the words of Randolph’s engagement with the art historian Barbara Marie Stafford, how not to “become dumb watching” the visual pyrotechnics of our times. Prints of Randolph’s paintings appear in my books not as illustrations but as parts of arguments — as sites of meditation, dense feeling, and political reflection.
The following passage is Haraway’s explanation of the cyborg picture on the cover of Simians, Cyborgs, and Women.
“The image, entitled Cyborg, is a work of Lynn Randolph in 1989. The image itself is full of iconic representations and rich with ideas concerning the cyborg existence. The central figure is one of a woman of color with a large spirit-like feline draped atop her. Behind this figure is a screen with symbols of the Milky Way and the gravity well of a black hole. There is an interesting figure at the center of the screen. A tic-tac-toe game is scrawled on the screen but instead of knots and crosses, this game is played with the European female and male astrological signs. In fact, if one were able to observe closely, the winner in this particular game is Venus. What is most important about the image is the central figure. ‘She embodies the still oxymoronic simultaneous statuses of woman, ‘Third World’ person, human, organism, communications technology, mathematician, writer, worker, engineer, scientist, spiritual guide, lover of the Earth. This is the kind of ‘symbolic action’ transnational feminisms have made legible.’ This image draws upon the ideas of the feminist cyborg theory and the cyborg’s relations to feminism. With elements of both nature and science depicted in the image, the complexities of the cyborg identity are almost fully represented. The cyborg is existing on the little bits of everything that makes it real; it is the embodiment of various ideas and lives as an icon of endless social thoughts.”
The Artcar Controversy – 2001
In November of 2001, shortly after 9/11, one of Randolph’s paintings received some attention from the FBI. The painting, installed at a private Houston art museum called ArtCar, is part of an exhibit called Secret Wars. The “exhibit investigates artistic dissent to covert operations and government secrets.” The museum was investigated as part of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s anti-terrorism campaign.The following links contain reports and analyses of the event.
The Progressive — The New McCarthyism
Refuse and Resist — Reprint of Houston Chronicle article
Houston Press — Quirky Yes, Al Qaeda No
Randolph has also presented several papers and presentations. They are listed on her website. Several of these papers are online, but they are unlinked. If you google the title of the presentation, you can find the link.
University of Houston Library Lynn Randolph Collection – The main archive page has an excellent biography.