Lorraine O’Grady with Jarrett Earnest
by Lorraine O’Grady in conversation with Jarrett Earnest, 2016
February 3rd, 2016: In this cover feature, her most important published interview to date, O’Grady discusses Flannery O’Connor as a philosopher of the margins, the archival website, working out emotions via Egyptian sculpture, Michael Jackson’s genius, and feminism as a plural noun.
Jarrett Earnest (Rail): A lot of your work relates to archives, both in content and form. When you started putting together your own website, were you thinking about it in terms of framing it as an archive?
Lorraine O’Grady: I did it because I thought I’d disappeared in many people’s minds—Connie Butler being one exception. Connie had been at WAC (Women’s Action Coalition) as a young woman, and I was one of the very few women of color who were active in that group. When she later curated the exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (2007) and put me in it, I knew it would be important, I felt I had to be ready. That’s when I put the website up; I wanted to make it possible for anyone that was interested to become more engaged. Everything had disappeared from public view, it was all just sitting in the drawers of my file cabinets. I realized that for any of it to be understood I had to include everything: the images, the texts—it had to be a mini-archive. It’s designed to shape my work for the public and be a teaching tool. But it’s also meant as a staging for serious research, a start for access to my physical archives at Wellesley.
I deliberately built the site to emphasize the connections between text and image—I didn’t want people to just look at the pictures. You can’t even get to the images without going through text; every link lands you back into text. During my exhibit at the Carpenter Center, I met with art historian Carrie Lambert-Beatty’s PhD seminar. I think I shocked the grad students when I said, “I would not be here now were it not for my website.” But you know, to have just appeared in WACK! with Mlle Bourgeoise Noire’s gown, I would have been a one-hit wonder. Having the website up with my other artwork and my writings available would make it more possible for me to be recuperated by a new generation of artists, writers, and curators.
Rail: One of the reasons your body of writing is so vital is that it really feels like it has a job to do, creating a context that wasn’t otherwise there.
O’Grady: Speaking was a demand that the work made on me, and that increasing interactions with others made on me. I learned so much each time I had to find a way to talk about the work.