Lorraine O’Grady: The Space Between MATRIX 127
by Andrea Miller-Keller, 1995
Wherever I stand I must always build a bridge to some other place. Lorraine O’Grady 1994
Lorraine O’Grady is a conceptual artist who has used performance, photography, and collage, along with lectures and critical writing, to speak her mind. O’Grady’s work reminds us that terms such as “black” and “white” are no longer adequate to describe individuals who are unique composites of diverse social, ethnic, national, educational, and economic backgrounds.
O’Grady was born and raised in Boston. As a first-generation African-American of African-Caribbean-Irish descent, she is unwilling to accept the fragmented and often disparaged identity that our class-race-gender-conscious society would impose on people whose backgrounds are culturally mixed.
O’Grady intends for her work to challenge the binary thinking that pervades Western thought. As O’Grady reminds us, the “either/or” paradigms implicit in binarism are essentially divisive. Certain conceits in our society rely on this long-standing
mentality: for instance, black as the inferior supplement to white, female as the inferior supplement to male, working class as the inferior supplement to wealthy. Refusing these models of binary oppositions, O’Grady instead promotes an idea of “both/and,” which embraces the notion of “hybridization,” the blending of different elements. This strategy resists the dominant culture’s inclination to freeze subjects into ostensibly rigid categories — categories which are the basis of the stereotypes which build and sustain discrimination and privilege.
O’Grady’s work strains against these prevailing over-simplifications. Offering resistance in both her life and her art, she champions the positive values of hybridization. O’Grady has been, she says, “obsessed with the reconciliation of opposites: past and present, conscious and unconscious, black and white, you and me.”
For O’Grady, her own multi-racial, upper-middle-class background has been both a source of displacement and empowerment. Her culturally-complex childhood often left her ( … )