Lorraine O’ Grady is more than a powerhouse artist. Having had work exhibited all over the United States and Europe, the 84-year-old conceptual and performance artist (and critic) has never shied away from controversy—rather, she’s drawn to ways of speaking out amongst the cacophony. O’Grady (born in Boston to Jamaican immigrant parents) creates work that explores hybridity and gender, race and diaspora—all centered on identity, or the construct of identity. Her current exhibition From Me to Them to Me Again (on now through 13 January 2019 at Savannah College of Art and Design) is both timely and important.
The show is made up of two bodies of O’Grady’s work: the film “Landscape (Western Hemisphere)” and her haiku diptychs. The haikus, written and collaged from real headlines and phrases from the New York Times, were first created in 1977 and then revisited 40 years later. Unadorned and simple, the pieces dance as viewers get closer. Meanings and messages are oftentimes subtle, but always powerful. It’s in this seemingly gray area that O’Grady commands attention.
She tells us, “There is no balance being sought in Western culture. I find the only way to formulate my ideas about this unbalance is by something that disputes the binary, my usage of the diptych. I tried to put something up in the space with equal sides that sets up a ceaseless exchange. When you make a diptych of equivalence like I have for instance between Charles Baudelaire and Michael Jackson, and put them on the wall together, a conversation starts where there is no end. That is, I think, my best way to set something in motion that questions the fundamental aspects of Western culture I am in dispute with.”
While these haikus reference Dadism, the movement’s rejection of reason is something O’Grady rejects. And, across the show, O’Grady seems to be asking questions, while simultaneously rejecting simple answers. She says, “I am a writer as much as I am a visual artist, and I say with text and images, one informs the other. With my body of work, I do not accept the categories of contemporary art and do not accept categories of Western civilization. I realize now, most of my work is an argument against Western civilization.”
Personal and political, the show is nuanced and thoughtful—all the while creating an important sense of tension.
From Me to Them to Me Again is on view at SCAD until 13 January 2019.
Images courtesy of SCAD