BAHM: 2.23.17 Lorraine O'Grady
Lorraine O’Grady (b. 1934, Boston) is a New York based artist working in conceptual performance, with film and video installation. Her work focuses primarily on cultural constructions of black female identity, shaped by diaspora and hybridity and their role in modernization. One of her first and most iconic public performances, Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire (Miss Black Middle Class), was featured in the historic 2007 exhibition, WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, the first of its kind to represent the feminist art movement. O’Grady’s work has been featured in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, the 2012 Paris Triennale, and the seminal exhibitions, This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s and Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art.
O’Grady’s performance, Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire (1980-1983), consisted of the artist dressed in a costume made of 180 white gloves taken from Manhattan thrift stores and carrying a white cat-o-nine-tails made of sail rope, studded with white chrysanthemums. She made two unannounced appearances, at a show opening at Just Above Midtown, a black avant-garde gallery, and the recently opened New Museum of Contemporary Art. Her persona was that of an equal opportunity critic, targeting the “timid black artists and thoughtless white institutions.” O’Grady sought to critique both the racism and classism of second-wave feminist avant-garde and the repressed/oppressed nature of the black avant-garde. The piece was ultimately viewed as a failure to entice change in the art world that would not be apparent until the major 1988-89 exhibitions of David Hammons and Adrian Piper. Another series by O’Grady, titled Misegenated Family Album (1980/1994), consists of a selection 16 diptychs taken from the 1980 performance, Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, which deals with mourning and familial reconciliation. The diptychs draw striking aesthetic similarities between the artist’s older sister, Devonia and Queen Nefertiti, along with family members from both sides and their respective histories. The series addresses, through various ‘chapters,’ the complex relationship of love and rivalry between sisters and the historic forces that shaped Egyptian influence in African heritage that link these two families across time.
MOCA Interview: Introducing: Lorraine O'Grady and Juliana Huxtable, Pt. 1
The Brooklyn Rail Interview: Lorraine O'Grady with Jarrett Earnest