Rivers, First Draft, 1982

“Rivers, First Draft: working script, cast list, production credits.” Unpublished.

© Lorraine O’Grady, 1982

O’Grady’s most autobiographical performance was a “three-ring” simultaneous narrative performed one time only in the Loch section of Central Park on August 18 for “Art Across the Park,” curated by Gilbert Coker and Horace Brockington. This script, redrafted until the day of performance, and a set of photo-documents are the only remains.


1. The Woman in the White Kitchen

On the near bank of the stream, there is a house frame of 2 x 4’s painted enamel white. It is of the front of the house only and has no wall.

On the ground, in front of the frame and extending inside the “house,” is a bed of white pebbles forming a square white garden. It flows from under the kitchen furniture which consists of a white stool and miniature white table.

A brown-skinned woman wearing a white halter dress and white wedgies, with a 40s hair style (pompadour type) and bright red lipstick, sits at the table preparing white food — either grating coconut, or flaking codfish and mixing it with chopped onion and flour.

In front of the house frame is an artificial potted plant: it is a fir-palm (the combination hybrid of a fir and a palm) and seems to be a metaphor for the West Indian transplanted to New England. In the kitchen, a short-wave radio tuned to a New York station (WLIB) blasts a 5-minute newscast delivered in a West Indian accent. The broadcast has been creatively taped by selecting out the most pompous statements, the most stereotypically eager to appear sophisticated and American, and repeating them.

The image that the Woman-in-White projects with her repetitive grating, flaking, chopping, or sifting actions is that of a perfectionist, not one who is tight and determined, but more relaxed — her perfectionism seems less an inner need to be perfect than a need to appear perfect to the alien world in which she now lives.

Her activity continues uninterrupted throughout the entire performance, from just before the start of the West Indian newscast until after the procession goes down the stream at the end. ( … )

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