Overlapping territories and intertwined histories
by Judith Hoos-Fox, 2012
In the mid-1990s the efforts and agenda of the Davis Museum were directed toward exploring contemporary cultural issues through exhibitions, developing a program that reached students, building the collections, grappling with how to collect performative work, enticing faculty from across disciplines to use the Museum, connecting with alumnae, and showing and supporting the work of minorities. Lorraine O’Grady’s Miscegenated Family Album, acquired in 1994, embodies all these aspirations and activities.
Word had filtered down to me that in attendance at Wellesley’s first reunion of African American alumnae was an artist whom I should meet. It was as surprising as it was exciting to talk at the event with this vibrant, articulate artist of national stature, whose work already had become canonical in the world of performance art. My next trip to New York included a visit to the fledgling Thomas Erben Gallery, wedged into his crowded living quarters, where I saw O’Grady’s Body Ground work, startling in both its imagery and how it was made–this was years before Photoshop.
And I’m pretty sure it’s then that I also saw the first four pairs of the Miscegenated Family Album, standing alone as Sisters.
I immediately made my way across town to the artist’s studio, hers for a year as part of an award from the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation. There, within a makeshift room-within-a-room, O’Grady had installed the entire sequence of Miscegenated Family Album, sixteen pairs of found photographs. In each pair, an image of her sister or a niece, selected from family albums, was uncannily matched with a stock photograph of a noted Egyptian sculpture that recalled “University prints”–those shiny black-and-white photographic images of the great monuments of the world. Lorraine sent me in to view the photographs alone, and I spent a long time looking. I remember being deeply moved by this work, so personal yet addressing the core of the human condition. Who are we? Where do we fit? ( . . . )