In Lorraine O’Grady’s own words, Miscegenated Family Album (1994) is a “novel in space.” Installed as a series of 16 photo-based diptychs, the work began as a memorial to her older sister Devonia, who died unexpectedly at the age of 37, while the two were estranged. The photographs of Devonia and her family are contrasted with images of Queen Nefertiti, the ancient Egyptian queen—enabling the viewer to draw parallels between Devonia and Queen Nefertiti, a woman who had disappeared from Egyptian history when she was 36. O’Grady’s work extends beyond personal reflection on this tragedy by taking on the universal challenges of memory, loss, and the erratic shifts in how history is preserved.
Lorraine O’Grady (born 1934) is an artist and critic whose installations, performances, and texts address issues of diaspora, hybridity, and black female subjectivity. She has undertaken numerous solo exhibitions, most recently at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008, at Artpace, San Antonio in 2007, and in the group exhibition WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2007). Her work will be featured in the 2010 Whitney Biennial.
Lorraine O’Grady’s exhibition is one of six exhibitions focused on the metaphysics of the human figure grouped under the title Looking for the Face I Had Before the World Was Made. The artists include: Michaël Borremans, Samuel Beckett, Eric & Heather ChanSchatz, Lorraine O’Grady, A. G. Rizzoli and William Stockman. Each of the artists explores how depicting the human figure can offer something more consequential than a simple catalogue of physical features. Each work in the exhibition tells a human story while de-emphasizing the likeness of any particular person. Using a wide variety of styles, the artists are joined by an interest in creating a sense of a phenomenon deeper than the surface image, capturing a presence prior to the appearance of the fully formed individual. The line “Looking for the face I had before the world was made,” is a quote from the late poet and dramatist, William Butler Yeats, from his poem “A Woman Young and Old.” It can be understood as either a statement of faith or a philosophical riddle related to the formation of the self.
Looking for the Face I Had Before the World Was Made opens January 29, 2009 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. The exhibition is sponsored in part by Amber & Michael Fries, Emily Sinclair & Jay Kenney, and MCA Denver’s Director’s Vision Society.