Robin Becker “Here to There”…and Back Again

“Ellis Island Hallway” mixed media painting by Robin Becker. Courtesy of Robin Becker

Although we announced this dual exhibit, “Here to There, a recent visit to the Topanga Canyon Gallery with Robin Becker adding commentary to her own work, compels me to share my response, especially to her latest series of photo-mixed media works, “Ellis Island Immigration.”

For Becker, this seems to be a mini-retrospective that includes earlier works from her series, “Places you Want to Be” and “Floating Dresses,” using layers of imagery from photographs that she prints on cloth

In the same vein, her “Immigration Series” of half a dozen pieces, may be some of her most personal art grounded in her own immigration story. It struck me as a maturation or deepening of all that came before, perhaps because it touches on the universal construct of fear of “The Other”—refugees fleeing war and starvation with no place to go. Today, the world is caught up in a global migration and being an immigrant has been conflated with being a potential terrorist. Fear abounds.

It’s precisely because this art has this historic context, placed in the ruins of Ellis Island, with then-and-now apparitions amid abandoned rooms and empty hallways, that it is so affecting.

Within the framework of that history, we see Becker’s grandfather, the inventor, standing beside a telescope he made. We see a floating dress in a circular hallway, created because medicine in those days thought germs only traveled in straight lines; a gentle breeze ruffles delicate lace layers of the dress. What appears as an ancestral portrait hung above a fireplace mantel is Becker’s photo of a Topanga girl she took last year for her “Veiled Portraits” series. Children like her were turned away in the time of the Great War. We see a Moroccan in full cultural garb, standing in the foreground of an empty chair placed beneath a window. He would not use or move the chair out of respect for the spirits of those who came before. His gaze is at us. As he stepped onto welcoming American soil were we, who peer back at him now, what his hopes for the future were?  

These portraits lead us to reflect on then and now—what happened then is happening now. A spectral presence reaches out to bridge time and ask, “Do we really want to repeat the worst of our past? Or do we want to build upon the hopes of those who went before?

The exhibit continues at Topanga Canyon Gallery through May 14. The closing reception takes place on Saturday, May 13, 4-7 p.m.

This cooperative art gallery is located at 120 N. Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Suite 109, Topanga, CA 90290. For more information:; (310) 455-7909;


Flavia Potenza

Flavia Potenza is executive editor of the Messenger Mountain News. She is also a founding member of the 40-year old Topanga Messenger that closed its doors in 2016. She can be reached at

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