WPS1 chat with Connie Butler, 2008

“Artist Lorraine O’Grady in conversation with WACK! curator Connie Butler.” WPS1 Art Radio. Historic Audio – WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution. 45 minutes. First broadcast January 28, 2008.

© WPS1.org. 2008

Full transcript of a 45-minute conversation between Lorraine O’Grady and curator Connie Butler in WPS1 Art Radio’s broadcast studios two weeks before the WACK! opening at PS1–MOMA, Long Island City, NY.

. . . .[Could you reflect] back on some of the other black women artists who were involved in the feminist art moment: Howardena Pindell, Adrian Piper. . . the different ways in which you participated, or not [. . . what] was going on? Maybe you could talk about that.

Yeah, you know, I am not sure…um, well, as you know, the word “feminist” has had a problematic relationship with black women even at the time of the feminist movement at its height. The word was contested by writers like Alice Walker, who refused to use the word “feminist” and substituted the word “womanist.” This was rather complicated because the programs of mainstream, white feminism were rather to the right or off the center of what the preoccupations of most black women were at the time. I am not sure. . . Adrian Piper has written what I think all and if not, many black women would say which is that, in our culture, race trumps gender. We can’t just push that one under the rug. There were recently the pictures in the New York Times of Cady Stanton and Fredrick Douglas. This is an issue that’s gone back a hundred years. And so most black women feel that they are dealing with two forms of oppression, racial and gender, and deciding for yourself what the problem is at any given moment. It’s almost like a chess game. I would say that every black woman has a different relationship to these issues depending on her life and depending on what’s happening in the world.

It really is a complex set of variables and I don’t think you could find any two black women artists who were dealing with it in the same way at the same time. . . . I think. . . Howardena was [the one most] engaged in the dialogues of feminism. She was part of A.I.R. Gallery and so on. I would say that I was not as actively feminist as Howardena, but I was [still] working out of my position as a woman. It wasn’t just Mlle. Bourgeoise Noire, it was very definitely all about the socialization of a black middle-class woman. . . . I did another performance called Rivers, First Draft, which basically was about finding one’s way as a woman. The piece was about finding myself as an artist. Taking myself seriously as an artist, after a lifetime, almost, of being a playgirl. It was about this moment of stopping being a playgirl and becoming an artist. This is actually something that I have to say very honestly. It took me a long time to stop being “pretty” and “empty-headed”-well, not empty-headed. I could never be empty headed, I was too well educated, but you know what I’m talking about.

Sure. Playing a certain role.

Right. Playing that role. And I was in my forties when I started making these performances. Until that time, I was, you know, a “chick.” (She laughs). ( . . . )

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