by James Rondeau, 2007, 2011
Lorraine O’Grady’s primary artistic vehicles have been performance, photography, lectures, and critical writing. However, she goes where her work takes her, and recent projects have included the ambitious use of video. A first-generation African American of African-Caribbean- Irish descent, O’Grady has focused her concerns mainly on representations of black female subjectivity, often through the lens of family, literary, and art-historical narratives. These commitments extend beyond her own subjectivity. All her work—intellectual and creative—combats the erasure and invisibility of difference across a spectrum of social concerns.
O’Grady centered her experience in San Antonio on individuals, their memory of place, and the implications of their story within a discussion of race, class, and contemporary urban life. The conceptual locus for these dialogues is a recently closed bar and dance club called the Davenport Lounge. By all accounts, the Davenport was a wildly successful experiment conducted in the heart of San Antonio’s downtown historic district—a neighborhood that is struggling toward commercial renewal.
Originally reflecting upscale aspirations, the Davenport was designed to attract an older, affluent crowd— a demographic readily associated with the symphony and theater on the same city block. The lounge did not thrive in this incarnation. After a group of enterprising local DJs took over the basement, however, the place quickly became a sensation, drawing a vibrant, young, multiethnic crowd from all across the city. For a short time, the Davenport fostered a sense of community and, for much of the staff and patrons, a family-like structure. Near the end of its run, long lines wrapped around the block. The club took on a life of its own, serving as a kind of crucible that made it larger than the sum of its parts. The narrative of its demise is a familiar one in which countercultural forces run up against, and are ultimately stifled by, dominant commercial interests. Presumably in San Antonio, the late-night evidence of diversity was perceived to threaten development interests, specifically the sale of high-end condominiums. The owners closed the Davenport, and the staff was subjected to an eviction supervised by the San Antonio police. The culture that had grown up around the club was displaced. In an effort to sustain the memory of the Davenport, many of the young people salvaged pieces of furniture from the club themselves. ( . . . )