Lorraine O’Grady’s NEW WORLDS
by Andil Gosine, 2012
Gently trembling quivers of hair provide a perfectly pitched and suitably gorgeous meditation on a conversation Lorraine O’Grady started twenty years ago. The artist’s conundrum then, as now, was herself and us. As she wrote on the wall of the 1991 New York exhibit in which the images first appeared: What should we do? What is there time for? What should we do with the mess of desires, identities and culture that mixing, both forced and free, has unleashed in the Americas since colonial encounter?
Her reply in that first solo show at the INTAR Hispanic American Arts Centre opened with two works from her series Body Is The Ground of My Experience (BodyGround): the delicate Fir-Palm, a black-and-white photomontage featuring a hybrid New England fir and Caribbean palm growing from a black woman’s torso, and The Clearing, a photomontage diptych showing conflicting scenes of interracial sex played out in black-and-white against the backdrop of a forest clearing. Twenty years later, for her 2012 solo show New Worlds at Alexander Gray Associates, the two are paired with her newest work, Landscape, Western Hemisphere, a mesmerizing eighteen-minute black and white
The appropriately titled New Worlds is O’Grady’s tome on five hundred years of history. It offers further evidence of the artist’s prescience. A complex, subversive thinker, once overlooked, she has always made work that demands committed attention–no easy feat in any situation but especially difficult in an earlier, racially segregated art world that could not find place for her. The Fir-Palm establishes a context for one strand of a lifelong interrogation that has consumed her practice, revealing the tensions surrounding the artist’s identity and her production of body and desire as foundational for the development of the Western Hemisphere. Its botanic concoction embodies O’Grady’s heritage as the child of Caribbean immigrants who left Jamaica for Boston at the dawn of the twentieth century. The image is at once an assertive claim about her own hybridity and, through the clouds hovering in its background, an acknowledgment of its precarious condition. The Fir-Palm puts to picture Homi Bhabha’s “Third Space”; through O’Grady, Gayatri Spivak’s subaltern speaks. ( . . . )