Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, by Lorraine O’Grady
© College Art Association 1997*
In this article for Art Journal, Winter 1997, the special issue on performance edited by Martha Wilson, O’Grady focuses first on Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, then discusses its relationship to Miscegenated Family Album, alluding to the advantages and disadvantages of the move from performance to photo installation.
Abstract: A performance artist relates her creation of a piece called Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline. The work juxtaposes the image of the artist’s deceased older sister and an ancient Egyptian queen. It parallels the artist’s troubled relationship with her sister and Nefertiti’s troubled relationship with the queen’s younger sister. ( … )
In 1980, when I first began performing, I was a purist – or perhaps I was simply naive. My performance ideal at that time was “hit-and-run,” the guerilla-like disruption of an event-in-progress, an electric jolt that would bring a strong response, positive or negative. But whether I was doing Mlle Bourgeoise Noire at a downtown opening or Art Is . . . before a million people in Harlem’s Afro-American Day parade, as the initiator, I was free: I did not have an “audience” to please.
The first time I was asked to perform for an audience who would actually pay (at Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York, in the Dialogues series, 1980) – I was non-plused. I was not an entertainer! The performance ethos of the time was equally naive: entertaining
the audience was not a primary concern. After all, wasn’t it about contributing to the dialogue of art and not about building a career? I prepared Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline in expectation of a one-night stand before about fifty cognoscenti and friends. It was a chance to experiment and explore. Performance’s advantage over fiction was its ability to combine linear storytelling with nonlinear visuals. You could make narratives in space as well as in time, and that was a boon for the story I had to tell.
My older sister, Devonia, had died just weeks after we’d got back together, following years of anger and not speaking. Two years after her unanticipated death, I was in Egypt. It was an old habit of mine, hopping boats and planes. But this escape had turned out unexpectedly. In Cairo in my twenties, I found myself surrounded for the first time by people who looked like me. This is something most people may take for granted, but it hadn’t happened to me earlier, in either Boston or Harlem. Here on the streets of Cairo, the loss of my only sibling was being confounded with the image of a larger family gained. ( … )