Brooklyn Museum Presents Lorraine O’Grady: Both/And
Throughout her career, Lorraine O’Grady pounded on the door of the art world establishment, calling for systemic change. Now, at eighty-six, she is getting her due, with a heralded retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum called Both/And, which follows the comprehensive anthology of her writing, Writing in Space, 1973–2019, published by Duke University Press in 2019.
Born in Boston to Jamaican parents, O’Grady’s career has been eclectic. She’s had jobs as a translator, music critic, and intelligence analyst for the American Government. Later she’d blaze a trail as a performance artist for a decade before being featured in her first solo visual arts exhibition, Body is the Ground of My Experience in 1991, presented at the INTAR Gallery in New York City, when O’Grady was fifty-seven.
One of the exhibition’s diptychs proved controversial. On one side, an interracial couple embraces as they float above two children frolicking below, a gun lying nearby. On the other, a man wearing medieval armor, with a skull for a head, fondles a Black woman’s breast. Her eyes are rolled back as if dead, or uninterested.
In writing about the piece in 1993, O’Grady meditated on the negative reactions about the work from the art world. “I don’t like it,” one curator told her. “That’s not the way sex is supposed to be.” He didn’t take the diptych for his exhibition.
"This piece has been misinterpreted frequently and misunderstood,” said longtime friend Robert Ransick, who assisted O’Grady on the show after being her student at the School of Visual Arts. Speaking with O’Grady in a public online discussion hosted by the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Ransick noted O’Grady retitled the diptych in the 1990s, from The Clearing, to The Clearing: Or, Cortez and La Malinche, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, N. and Me.