Calvin Reid, “A West Indian Yankee in Queen Nefertiti’s Court,” New Observations #97: COLOR, pp. 5-9, September/October 1993.
LORRAINE O’GRADY’S career embodies a fascinating combination of personal transformation, risk and intelligence leavened with an ingenuous sense of inquiry and discovery. Examining O’Grady’s work, and consequently her life, reveals several experiential narratives that flip back and forth connecting her life to her art and consequently to a broader sense of how African-American people construct a sense of who we are in the world. O’Grady’s work manages to address the classic alienation of the 20th century artist from bourgeois taste and conventional practice; as well as the inner struggle of a woman clashing with sexist social tropes in a effort to recreate her life and embrace her talents. And, if that weren’t enough endeavor for one creative life span, she manages to extend these narratives into the racial complexities that form the foundation of American life. From her original performance pieces to her recent two dimensional photographic works, her works capture the process of the female artist embracing her own value and autonomy as a woman, and the relationship of that dearly acquired sense of self to the role of the contemporary artist — particularly
the Black female artist — within the matrix of a male-dominated and a race-obsessed society. O’Grady’s work embodies a reconstruction of the psyche, spurred by class as well as race and driven by individual and social memory. This multi-tiered examination of consciousness distinguishes O’Grady’s work. Her guerrilla performances recreated the inner conflict, history, ambiguities and social patterns of her own life, presenting themes emblematic of the neglected psychic terrain of the Black female. Rooted in a commitment to expressive narration and an almost spiritual transformation of physical space, her performance took on the experiential complexities of class stratification, diversity, aesthetic and spiritual growth, intraracial diversity and interracial exclusivity. But if her work reveals a Black feminist embrace — to distinguish it from assumptions of white assumptions of what feminism means — it also embraces a preoccupation with experimental form. Her work, in particular the performance works, is typified by risk, mercurial change and an expressive subjectivity, honing her presentations as she dissects the social tropes surrounding her life. ( … )