“Body Is the Ground of My Experience”
black-and-white photomontages, varied sizes, 1991
© Lorraine O’Grady, 2010
Written to answer FAQs about the works without prescribing viewers’ responses. The photomontages were not based in Surrealist or Dada randomness. To make arguments and not just images or dreams, rational sources were twisted so unfamiliar subjective material of the “other” might enter.
THE CLEARING: OR, CORTEZ AND LA MALINCHE, THOMAS JEFFERSON AND SALLY HEMINGS, N. AND ME.
The diptych presents the both/and extremes of ecstasy and exploitation of this troubled and still under-theorized historic relationship. In the left panel, a naked couple deliriously “floats on air” above the trees while in the clearing below two mixed-race children play near a forgotten pile of clothing where a gun rests, threatening the scene. In the right panel, the skull-headed male figure proprietarily grasps the passive female’s breast. He wears tattered chain mail as if to argue that this foundational relationship of the Western Hemisphere, and its attendant duplicities, were the death of medieval “courtly love.”
DRACULA AND THE ARTIST. Left Panel: DREAMING DRACULA. Right Panel: DRACULA VANQUISHED BY ART.
The image in the left panel, “Dreaming Dracula,” shows a black woman with broken, unkempt hair, dressed in a loose white shift. Her attention is focused on the flight of
broken-toothed combs descending toward her on a shaft of light. To the right, in the panel “Dracula Vanquished by Art,” the same woman sits at a small wood table writing on a pad. Though there is a desk lamp, the illumination seems to come from the table itself, and her hair, still broken but now more “intentional,” is haloed by its light. The flight of combs lies spent in a corner of the room.
The foliage of a New England fir tree grows from a tropical palm trunk that in turn springs from an African woman’s navel. ( … )