Lorraine O’Grady’s Landscape
By Andil Gosine
The most recent – and at the time of writing, still in-progress work created by Lorraine O’Grady is an 18-minute video of her hair in motion. Her first foray into video, Landscape (Western Hemisphere) is a breathtakingly beautiful piece that, while adept as a companion to and extension of O’Grady’s 1991 diptych The Clearing: or Cortez and La Malinche,Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, N and Me, exceeds this originally conceived purpose. An 18-minute video of close-up images of hair blowing might not sound like an especially enticing project, but it is a truly remarkable exercise. I went into the viewing with some apprehension, but a few frames in I became hooked into its evocative sensations. At once ethereal and grounded, O’Grady’s careful editing has resulted in a video that pulls the viewer into a journey that manages to build tension and curiosity, while at the same time provoking a wildly generative experience of imaginative self-reflection.
As has been my experience with her other work – Art Is and The Clearing especially – I emerge from Landscape (Western Hemisphere) feeling personally connected to O’Grady.
I think she isn’t just echoing a philosophical outlook or claiming a similar point of view, but that she’s speaking my journey. Through the honest, unafraid manner in which she has shared even the messier parts of her life and her critique of contemporary and historical processes through her art, O’Grady is speaking a lot of journeys of postcolonial subjects, perhaps none more than those of her Caribbean compatriots.
O’Grady herself has never stepped foot in the Caribbean. Born to Jamaican parents in Boston in 1934, she has spent most of her life in the United States. Trained as an economist, she did not turn to art production until she was almost 40, when she relocated to New York City. There, she began writing for The Village Voice and Rolling Stone, and later became a professor of Dadaist and Futurist literature before identifying herself as a visual artist. She has since produced consistently bold and beautiful, and often controversial, work. The 2007 inclusion of her groundbreaking performance piece, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, in ( . . . )