Biraciality and Nationhood in Contemporary American Art
by Kymberly N. Pinder, 2000
For when we swallow Tiger Woods, the yellow-black-red-white man, we swallow something much more significant than Jordan or Charles Barkley. We swallow hope in the American experiment, in the pell-mell jumbling of genes. We swallow the belief that the face of the future is not necessarily a bitter or bewildered face, that it might even, one day, be something like Tiger Wood’s face: handsome and smiling and ready to kick all comers’ asses.
The hope in ‘the yellow-black-red-white man’, reflected in the Tigermania that swept the US in the mid-1990s, is indicative of the racial crossroads at which the US, as a nation, finds itself at the close of the twentieth century. As Stanley Crouch describes, ‘We have been inside each other’s bloodstreams, pockets, libraries, kitchens, schools, theatres, sports arenas, dance halls, and national boundaries for so long that our mixed-up and multi-ethnic identity extends from European colonial expansion and builds upon immigration.’ Where are we as a nation regarding race when Woods can consider himself ‘Cablinasian’ while some southern states are still
officially ending their ‘one-drop’ rules and [taking] laws against mixed marriages off the books? How can we address the concerns of those who see Affirmative Action as all but dead?
Some contemporary artists in the US have been struggling with these issues during the 1980s and 1990s. Lorraine O’Grady is one of them. She originally titled her photomontage diptych The Clearing in 1991, however, later, she lengthened the title to The Clearing: or Cortez and La Malinche, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, N and Me to clarify the historical and personal relevance of the work. The left half of the piece presents the relationship between the black woman and white man as loving while the right as malevolent. The skeletal face of the man and the gun in the pile of clothing provide elements of violence and death. Yet O’Grady says, ‘it isn’t a “before/after” piece; it’s a “both/and” piece. This couple is on the wall in the simultaneous extremes of ecstasy and exploitation.’ The complex relationship between exploitation and defiance for such ‘women of color’ as La Malinche and Sally Hemings has become a trope of American hybridity and assimilation. ( … )