This conversation was recorded on October 26, 2022 with Lorraine O’Grady, Tsedaye Makonnen, Ayana Evans, moderated by Yacine Tilala Fall, with Jordan Martin and presented by Washington Project for the Arts, a DC-based arts nonprofit that supports and incubates artists, organized research, and cultural production. Watch the recording here and learn more about the participating artists here.

Jordan Martin (JM): Thank you all for being here. Welcome. My name is Jordan Martin, I'm the curatorial production manager here at Washington Project for the Arts. This program is a part of our exhibition titled Being/Becoming: The Act of Portraiture organized and curated by Yacine Tilala Fall. Yacine came to us well over a year ago with three questions: what is visual emancipation, what does it look like, and how do we radicalize Black visual language? From those questions, Yacine built a project that commissioned new works by Holly Bass, Renee Cox, Muse Dodd, Dominique Duroseau, and Marceline Mandeng Nken. A few of them are in the audience tonight. But these five Black women and gender nonconforming artists presented work as performance-based embodied self-portraits. And in continuing that conversation, I'm so delighted to present this talk. Yacine, thank you so much for bringing your questions and your ideas to us. 

Yacine Tilala Fall (YTF): Thank you all for coming today. This project has been unbelievable, the entire experience and the process of it. I have to thank WPA and thank Jordan especially for all the hard work you are doing. You, Nathalie, and Emily as well. You guys were the dream team and made this happen, especially and specifically this program which I'm so happy to be ending our series of programs for Being/Becoming. I'm so excited for the topics that we're about to discuss with three amazing, profound, and very brilliant artists that are here with us today. All three of these women just participated in the Loophole of Retreat for the Venice Biennale this year. We have Ayana Evans, who's based in New York City and is a performance artist. So happy to welcome you today, Ayana.

Ayana Evans (AE): Thank you. Thank you so much. 

YTF: Thank you so much for being here with us. Tsedaye Makonnen, another amazing artist who I heard of when I was getting my undergrad degree, is an artist, curator, mother, and birth worker of East African descent. Her studio practice primarily focuses on intersectional feminism, reproductive health, and migration. And finally, we have Lorraine O'Grady. I can't even — we’re blessed, you know? Lorraine is a conceptual artist and cultural critic whose work over four decades has employed the diptych, or at least the diptych idea as its primary form. She has consistently addressed issues of diaspora, hybridity, and Black female subjectivity and has emphasized the formative roles these have played in the history of modernism. You all have such beautiful relationships as artists and as people who have interacted throughout your careers, and I really would love for you to talk about that and how you all know each other. 

AE: I know Lorraine's work because I had Coco Fusco as a teacher in grad school and she championed Lorraine. And I was like, this work is amazing. And so, I wrote a paper on Lorraine and that was the first time I became familiar with her. But I really got to know her when I went to Skowhegan in 1999. And just hanging out with her there and talking to her and hearing her insights. She was so generous. That's one thing I still remember and I still think is true of people who meet her now is that she's so generous with her time and her advice. And just an open book as far as what's going on in her career and how it's working. Oh, and then Tsedaye, how did we officially meet? We met because of art stuff, too. 

Tsedaye Makonnen (TM): Yeah, I remember it because that's when I did the bleach performance and I got bleach on me.

AE: Oh my god, and we had to help you because bleach was on your skin. And we — yeah, and we didn't have enough stuff to really get it off your skin. So that's how we —

TM: Yeah, that's when I was doing work around colorism. And I remember because Leigh was there, Ester, the whole crew. And then Leigh called you and was like, "There's this girl putting bleach on herself. You have to come."

AE: That is what happened. Somebody called me and said, "There's a girl putting bleach on herself."

YTF: Oh my god.

AE: Like, ring the alarm, "You got to see this." And I was like, "I'm coming."

TM: Yes. And Lorraine, I met you through Ayana. Since then I've lived for your emails. They're very affirming because you point out all the things that I'm juggling plus being a mom.

Lorraine O'Grady (LO): I first met Ayana when I was a resident faculty at Skowhegan. And I'm not sure that I remember Ayana from early in that summer. But at the end of the summer, Ayana made a piece that we all agreed was the piece of the summer. I think it was a piece called I Make Art for Ladies who Don't Know Anything About Art. Do you remember that?

AE: That's right. I remember that. 

TM: Wow.

LO: It was a piece about church ladies and their hats and how these are the people that she was making art for. And the idea that they didn't know anything about art, and she was nonetheless making art for them. It struck a chord with Byron—who was also resident faculty at the time— and myself. It was such an impossibly difficult task that she was going about it with such intelligence. We didn't think that very many other people at Skowhegan that summer could get it. But Ayana, I just want you to know that the two of us got it, okay? After that, I said we have to keep in touch with this girl. And so, that was the start of my wonderful relationship with Ayana. It's so funny because it's been a long time and I realize I've known you probably half of your life.

AE: No, it's true. When I think about it, I'm like, wow. It has been a long time.

LO: I’ve known you already 22 years, right?

AE: Yeah, yeah.

LO: And I met Tsedaye, and first understood that she and Ayana were a working team, when they called me about the iteration of Loophole of Retreat that was first held at the Guggenheim when Simone Leigh won the Hugo Boss award. And we've all come such a long way since then. Tsedaye had a baby and had enormous successes in the art world. I have just enjoyed watching everybody grow so rapidly and so fruitfully, you know? That's all I can say.

YTF: That's beautiful. I love that these relationships have stretched on for a couple decades now. It's very beautiful. I think with that in mind, reflecting collectively is going to be very exciting. For this whole program we are talking about reflections and actions. I'm going to introduce a few questions as the conversation goes along. We're going to try to move very organically, kind of as we started. 

I'm curious about just how you three are responding to this idea of visual emancipation as it pertains to Black female and gender nonconforming artists. I'm curious about your understandings of that word and the idea of liberating yourself within your practice, and if it's changed for you all. For those of you returning to this program, we all know that I ask long-winded, big questions with more coming. Apologies in advance. 

TM: Lorraine, do you want to start off?

LO: Okay. We had a discussion yesterday about what the word emancipation meant in the current context.

TM: Yup.

LO: Unlike its first iteration in the middle of the 19th century when it was something done to us, for us, it's now something that we're doing to and for ourselves. And so, I think that the question about emancipation and what it is and how it works and so forth must be very different for every artist. It depends on what your individual starting place is and what you need in order to become free, freer to do what it is you have in mind. I think there's always a distance between what you have in mind and what you're capable of doing, right? Or you wouldn’t be doing it. You have to give yourself permission to just be an artist, to continue making work. At each stage, there's something you have to give yourself permission to do that you hadn’t done and don't know how it will be — you hadn’t done it before and you don't know how it will be received when you do it.

AE: That's right.

LO: And you have to be ready for any kind of reception—including ones that you wish you hadn’t had. Emancipation is not a one-time thing. It's something that is a process. It's something that you give yourself over—you have to do for yourself—over and over and over again. I'm just speaking for myself. I see myself as both the product of a New England education and the Caribbean tradition. I can't really separate those two, and I never know which one's going to come to my rescue and which one is going to cause me trouble. I have to have access both sides of myself. And I have to be honest about that. I'm not trying to be African American. I'm not even trying to be Caribbean as much as Caribbean diaspora, which is what I am. It's a whole other thing in itself. So, I would say that the question of self-definition, which is what I think we're really talking about.

YTF: Precisely, yeah. It's the idea of emancipation—and if it changes for you.

LO: Yeah. I think that a lot of what we think of as things that can be answered quickly, and in the moment, are really things that we don't know that much about and that we'll keep discovering more and more as we go.

YTF: Ayana, Tsedaye, you guys all agree?

AE: Yeah, totally. Yesterday it was really interesting, Lorraine, when you brought up how there was a point where we were asking someone to give us emancipation. And now, we're defining it for ourselves. And I think as I define it for myself, I feel very free when I perform or when I make art because I don't give myself restrictions. Sometimes it doesn't work out, like you said, Lorraine. What you have in mind is not what's going to happen. But you aim for it without holding back. Not holding back is what gets me to a place of feeling free and feeling emancipated. I don't have to hold back or make myself small.

I saw someone in the chat ask if we feel like Black women, femmes, and non-binary people lead the charge. And I think they've always led the charge. If you look at history, who is always leading the charge? You don't have to go very far back. A lot of times we're taking risks because we understand that it's the only way that we're going to move forward. If you stay quiet, everyone will ignore you. I think if you are queer, if you're a Black woman, if you're non-binary, you learn that early on. You hit that really quickly. There might be times where being quiet saves your life, but it does not get you money. 

TM: It doesn't get you into shows.

AE: Right. On and on and on. Especially in art, and within corporate worlds. There are moments where being quiet helps you push along. But even then, you hit a ceiling because you're too quiet, you know?

YTF: Do you think you have to nurture that within yourself? I think being in a space where you refuse to make yourself feel small, where you refuse to be quiet, where you really choose to stand in your body—and practicing that continuously throughout your career—it's like tending to a relationship with that feeling, you know?

TM: Yeah.

AE: But I think — doesn't it get easier though? Or it gets harder to hold yourself in.

TM: Yeah, exactly.

YTF: It’s tending to that place in you that says “No” or "This is what I am worth."

TM: I think it gets easier. At least for me it has. Recently someone told me, "You're really good at advocating for yourself." I was like, "Really?" But you know, I've evolved to become that person because of performance art. Real talk. Ayana and I have talked about this. Even the way I'm so comfortable in my body and my skin now is because I've done the weirdest shit in front of masses of people. And the more you do that, the less you actually care what you look like. You know, like we had that whole cellulite series… 

AE: Yeah, we do.

TM: Being half-naked in front of Black people. Performance art has just now become cool within the Black art world. I'm used to having to perform more in white spaces, unfortunately. For a long time the Black art world kind of looked at us like, y'all, what you're doing is weird. Like, what is that? That's not cute, you know? It's not this thing you can put on a wall. Maybe they felt embarrassed by us. I don't know.

AE: I've heard some—we can gossip later. I've heard some background conversations. Things get back to you later.

But coming back to the visual emancipation part, performance art has given me access to finding that freedom within myself because I've had to get comfortable with showing up as I am in whatever state that is. And when you do that, you allow people to show up that way as well. And then it's like this exchange of emancipation that happens because that person's giving you room to be yourself and you're giving them room to be themselves. And when you take that into a space where there's an audience—you were talking about that yesterday, Lorraine—the energy that is happening between you as the performer and the audience. You might think you're coming in to do something, but the audience is actually deciding what you're doing, and vice versa.

YTF: Vulnerability is a key tool, especially in performance art. The idea of being able to open up that space by tapping into your own vulnerability. I'm curious if there was ever an artist or somebody that you looked to who displayed that type of vulnerability and inspired you to do so?

AE: Lorraine. Lorraine's call to action that Black art needs to take more risk.

LO: I actually had the first vision of risk taking in the Totality series by Adrienne Piper that she presented in Lucy Lippard's book, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object. I was inspired to think about that as an idea, but I can't say that I felt capable of or interested in following the way in which she did that. I thought it was so extreme that it was putting herself at risk in a way that may not be productive. It may have been productive for her, but it would not have been productive for me to do it that way. For me, the line between sanity and madness was always pretty thin and I didn't want to push myself over it. So that was a vision of risk, but it wasn't —

YTF: Maybe not quite the example.

LO: Yeah, copyable. 

YTF: Right, right. 

AE: That's a good way to put it.

LO: But it certainly helped me land in a place that was as risky as I could possibly be.

YTF: What's the riskiest work of yours? What's the riskiest piece in your eyes that you've ever made?

LO: I think that the riskiest piece is the one I'm doing now. Because it's physically risky. I'm wearing this forty pound armor on my body and an eight pound helmet that's supported just by my neck muscles. That's not easy. The costume is only part of the risk, but it reflects the risk of the whole thing. It's this combination of the Caribbean and the European that I feel is exemplary. The archipelago of the Caribbean represents something in contemporary globalized culture that almost no other place puts together in quite the same way. 

I'm interested in contributing to that discourse. Whether or not my position here in the United States will have very much effect or be cared about in the Caribbean. So, that's a risk. And you know, there's always this risk because I've been a rebel against the Caribbean as much as I have been formed by it. I do think that there is a feeling of mutual distancing and mutual hostility in some way between these various forms of Africanity or Blackness. And so, I've felt that not simply calling myself African American but Caribbean American could be misinterpreted as a way of pointing towards something that I was not in any way pointing toward.

It was something I couldn’t avoid because I was born into it and it was what I had to spend my life dealing with, you know? This revolt didn't just stop when I was throwing my mother's clothes out the window when I was three years old. It continues every day of my life, this revolt. This is the first time I'm actually taking that position as the starting point for the work. And that's pretty risky.

YTF: It's interesting to think about this idea of conceptual risk versus physical risk. And what that means as it relates to the experience of migration. I know that all three of you have interacted with this idea of migration. So, I'm curious to open this up to Tsedaye and Ayana. I saw you guys nodding your head when Lorraine was speaking. How does this idea of risk play into how you navigate the idea of migration in your own roots?

AE: It's funny, Lorraine, how you discuss race in the work and how that becomes the risk. Because I do think that there's times where you get excluded from things because of where you fit racially. And I don't mean just Black. Like, I'm Black American and my parents are from the south. So if there's a Caribbean show, I can't be in the Caribbean show, you know? I'm not African. But what I have learned is that you are who you are. You sit in the most comfortable spot when you just acknowledge who you are, and that's it, you know? Don't apologize for it. Don't worry about who's not putting you in the show because of it. Don't worry about who's going to say, well, you can't be here because of it, or who doesn't want to hear about it.

Things go in cycles, right? So one year, it might be real hot to talk about slavery, right? Like, oh, we got an anniversary for it. Let's talk about it. Then you get put in shows for that. Then the next year, you're not hot, you know? And you have to be mentally in a place where you can take that risk, but you don't worry about that risk. You're right it exists. And as far as physical risk, I do take physical risks a lot. But in the moment, it doesn't feel like a risk. 

LO: Yeah, if it had too much of a risk, you wouldn’t do it.

AE: Yes, exactly. 

YTF: Is it impulse?

AE: No, it's more like — I mean, I actually write down everything I'm going to do. Sometimes, it changes. It looks like this totally improv thing. But usually, there's steps.

YTF: No, for sure.

AE: The steps might switch as I'm working, but it's more like I'm doing it and I'm moving steps or I'm eliminating steps.

YTF: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

AE: But—

YTF: The steps are almost suggestions. 

AE: Yeah. But like, when I did cartwheels in front of a bus once, it was written somewhere that I'm going to do cartwheels in the street. Like, I had already decided on that level of risk. And if it felt like, oh my god, you're going to get it, or you're scared—I wouldn’t do it. But I was like, I got this. I think I can pull it off. And I did it in heels. Some people said, "Oh, you're in heels. You're going to be too wobbly. Don't do that." I felt like I'm strong. I could do it. But in the moment it's very different from when you look back. And even with intellectual risk, when you talk about rights, where you talk about sexuality — all of that it is a risk. But when you're in it, you're just being authentic. 

TM: Yeah, yeah.

YTF: It's kind of like being, just being, is radical. 

TM: Right. And it's like you said. It's not worrying about what's trending, what will get you into a show. You're just living your existence and performing that or making the work around that.

AE: Yeah.

TM: You just reminded me, speaking of risk, Ayana and I did a residency last year curated by Douglas Turner. I was in my second, right about to be my third, trimester. Ayana and I separately take a lot of risks. And then when we're together…

AE: Yes, I think it's more when we're together actually.

TM: Right.

AE: I think it increases.

TM: It increases. And we had to do this performance and get these shots in front of this waterfall in the middle of a river. And we didn't really think through what it means to cross a river in performance gear. And the rocks were slippery. So Ayana was like, "Okay, here." She threw her tulle into the water. You know, that meshy material. She was like, "Step on this. It'll make it less slippery." So, here's my pregnant ass crossing [a river].

AE: It worked though. It worked.

TM: It worked. And we got great shots. 

AE: But later, we're telling her partner…

JM: Yeah, I'm wondering how that went over.

TM: Yeah, but we made it.

AE: Not well, but the pictures are great.

TM: They're great. There were moments when I almost slipped. 

AE: You were pregnant and there was a lot of tulle around us. And we shouldn’t have been on that creek because it's rocky, there's no balance. Just holding on tight to the fabric. The picture will be great.

TM: Right, right. Dom actually called it art slavery. She's like, "Y'all just did art slavery." 

YTF: Sounds like something that Dominique would say. I can hear it now.

TM: We made so much work in a span of less than two weeks. Work that can be shown for years. 

AE: I know.

TM: But anyways, like Lorraine said, you don't realize it's a risk at the moment. You're just doing it. I think for me, the most public risk was the one at the Venice Biennale in 2019. I had an idea of what I was going to do because I came with my performance materials. So it wasn't [improvised] in the moment. I knew I was going to do it. I just didn't know if it was going to go way left or what.

YTF: I feel like that's the most liberating part as a performance artist. At least in my experience. You plan, but then in the moment, [the plan] is very much a suggestion. You can choose to completely annihilate the plan. And still, the preparation guides you in some direction, one way or another. I think that’s really interesting.

I'm curious about the idea of repeating works. Have you had a moment when you were like, this is such a thick idea and I'm interested in diving into it for the next few years? I know, Ayana, that you've been performing in this way for a minute now. When did you know: “This is it. This is the performance.” Or even for Astral Sea, Tsedaye, the performance that you did in Venice, you've done that before. Lorraine, for you too as well. Repeating a performance is impossible. It's never going to be the same. But I think how the concept persists through the performances is what's interesting. 

AE: Well, I think I'm obsessive about things. The first time I wore the body suit, I did not think I would wear it again. It was borrowed (shout out to Butch Diva the designer). It was not supposed to happen more than once. It was just an experiment. I called it a social experiment. No plan for it to happen again. And the reaction was so strong. We just put it on YouTube, this was not for a gallery or anything like that. And the reaction was so strong from people in the real place in real time. I was like, oh, I should do this again. And it became an obsession. I'm still working through the obsession of it. And I just let it grow. I'm not sick of it yet. I don't know if that's a good answer, but that's the honest answer. It's not really a plotted out a-ha moment but there’ve been moments where I knew it would probably take some years to get through the idea.

Then, you start saying, well, if I'm talking about the body and I'm talking about labor, it takes time to get through the idea. Or maybe one performance will shift something, and I'm more free. And then I'm like, oh, well, I have to do that again. But I don't have one a-ha where I know I'm going to do this for three years. I'm curious about you, Lorraine. I kind of want to know if you have those moments because I feel like you plan a little more than I do in terms of a long-term theme.

LO: Actually, among all of the prompts that occur in one's life to make art out of, I usually take the one that's the most immediate and the most pressing. But in general, I would say that I've never been one to think about repetition as a way of learning. For me, learning is more about putting different things into contact with each other, you know? At the very beginning I did two performances almost back to back. They were only maybe three months apart, four months apart—this was the Mademoiselle Bourgeoise Noire performance. And then that was in June, July, and August. Then in October, I did Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, which was the precursor to Miscegenated Family Album. 

And it was really as personal as you could possibly get, my trying to relate through my relationship with my sister. And right away, almost immediately in terms of having to discuss my work with other people or apply for grants or whatever, I was faced with a problem of trying to say how can these two ideas be coming from the same artist, okay? And I didn't really know how to explain it. I didn't know how to explain the political and interpersonal — which I wanted to emphasize because the political always is slightly personal and the personal is always slightly political. And I think it was by the third and fourth time it happened that I'm doing something that seemed to have seemingly nothing to do with what I had done before that I began to really think about the fact that, like it or not, I was not a “depth” artist.

And certainly, the kind of things that you were describing is very — I won't go so far as to say typical—but certainly anybody who's followed art history at any level at all recognizes the process that you've been going through. Which is oh, maybe I could do it this way. Maybe I could do it that way. And then maybe this and this and this. And it's really a question of boring down through the performance to get to deeper and deeper levels, not just to the performance itself, but to you as an artist. And I discovered that that was never going to be my process and that my process in fact was this business of putting things [together] that were seemingly different, but they were never different in the same way. In other words, everything was different but different in a different way, okay?

And that this composition that I was creating, without having planned to do it, was actually adding up to all the different parts of who I am as a person. And that I was, in fact, trying to build. Not to get to a deep level of truth — maybe I don't believe in that, I don't know… But [truth] was not something that inspired me to try to achieve. But rather the business of responding to whatever life was bringing to me and whatever part of me it was bringing that to, you know? And then to use that to build a complete picture of myself. I was always more interested in learning more about myself, but in a more direct way than the boring down way, you know what I'm saying? It seemed to me that I was more interested in the complexity of who I was, what these pictures all add up to. And I felt, well, maybe it'll add up to something at the end, you know what I mean? And being able to call myself a breadth artist rather than a depth artist. For the first time, one of the reasons why it was so scary is I think that the new work is some combination of the two things. That it really does have a breadth aspect, but it also has a depth aspect. And I'm not really sure how good I will be at that or at what point it will not start to bore me, you know? My mother always complained that I got bored so quickly…

YTF: Is it uncomfortable for the two to be so prevalent in the work that you're doing now?

LO: Well, I can't tell you — I mean, this is the scariest it's ever been. This is the first time I've ever actually been making work in real time. There's an audience actually waiting to see what's going to happen, you know? And that's scary. That's really, really scary.

YTF: I think this just encapsulates the nerves and the headspace that comes with performing. I'm curious if you think performance has allowed you to feel even more free to open yourself up conceptually in a sense of risk and how you were talking about certain things becoming less of a barrier and more of an opportunity for you. Does that make sense?

TM: Can you clarify?

YTF: Do you guys feel freer having been performance artists and having a practice in performance art? Do you think that it makes you feel a bit more comfortable to explore your conceptual realm—the space that you give yourself conceptually. Do you think being in between disciplines—the idea of learning new things and using certain things that might seem opposite or bringing them together, the idea of collaging certain disciplines into one moment. I'm curious if you feel that performance gives you that kind of comfort and discomfort in the way you make stuff? That wasn't shorter. Do you see how hard that is for me?

TM: I know, I know. It's okay. But it helped clarify. So, yes. I do think performance allows you to get away with a lot of shit that I think other mediums don't. At least for me. 

YTF: Good and bad, right?

TM: With performance, you do it and you apologize later, right? Or you're like, oh, my bad. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to do that. Because so much of it happens in the moment. I think for me, out of all the mediums, [performance art is] my most favored because of how immediate and direct it is. Ayana and I have spoken about this—that you can convey whatever it is that you're trying to say so quickly and directly to your audience in a way that can't be [misinterpreted]—well it can be but it's less likely to be versus some abstract painting you'd put on a wall and then people make their own interpretations.

I can tell you in the performance what I'm trying to say, right? Even if it's in a very abstract way because it's my body and it's my energy that I'm sending to you. I mean, the first performance I did in Venice was for the opening week. So everybody was there, right? Everybody as in, that's when the biggest crowds [are there]. And it's the most policed during that week as well. And I brought my pelvic bone. I brought my cape—that I thought was an Ethiopian cape but found out that it's some designer. I never got the name, but Betty Davis is like the only other person in the world who has it that Jimi Hendrix had gifted to her. So I had that and I feel really regal and strong in that. I'll do whatever in that cape. 

And I got flowers that I was ripping and spitting at people and smacking at people on the ground. Because the other thing I was doing, I was playing this song Faccetta Nera, which means little Black face in Italian. It's a song that's technically banned because Mussolini banned it during his era because the song's about Italian men [in the] army going into Ethiopia, stealing little Ethiopian girls, and making a new race. And of course, Mussolini didn't want that. He was a purist. He was like, we don't mix with the Blacks. So he banned the song. But it's a very popular song in Italy. Go on YouTube now. You find parents teaching their kids this song in 2022. So I was blasting that song really loud at the Biennale which also pissed them off because they like to act like they don't know this song. I'm just giving you a picture of — I'm doing all these weird —

YTF: It's vivid.

TM: Right. And I'm laying out in the middle of the walkway so that all the people in the go-karts have to come off the go-kart and walk around me because the go-kart can't pass through. I'm just trying to explain the ways that I've taken risks and the things that I've been able to get away with. And that adrenaline is in the moment, but it stays with me and it carries me and it pushes me further to say what I need to say through my performance, but also in my personal life, right? Like, I take less shit from people now because of performance art, you know? I advocate for myself better. I don't deal with a lot of things anymore that I used to put up with, especially in my 20s. 

YTF: We are going through it. We're going through it.

TM: Yeah, I hope that answered the question. It was kind of all over the place.

YTF: Listen, I mean, we are all over the place but this [conversation] is rooted in the power of intentionally using your body and what that does—in art and beyond art. So it's all applicable and beautiful. I have two questions left for you guys because I know they're saucy and I don't want to run out of time. I'm curious what choices you guys have made to either protect or expose more of yourselves. So, the idea of framing yourself and how you've chosen to go about that, you know? The choices that go into framing. During performance, it's all about the moment. So documentation is our best and our worst friend, you know, in a sense. It's a very effective tool depending on how you choose to document. So I'm curious about your guys' experience with that and what choices have gone into framing your work, even if it was your most recent piece. We don't have to do an entire looking back. 

TM: Who wants to start? Can I add to that?

YTF: Yes.

TM: I would love to hear about [Lorraine’s] show at the Brooklyn Museum. Because Ayana had gone. I wasn't able to see it but I remember her messaging me and being like, "Bitch, Lorraine is" — you know, this is us talking to each other. She's like, "Lorraine has these images of performances that are going to come." And I don't know if I'm explaining that well, but I've never seen or heard of anyone doing that before, and it just sounded amazing. And, yeah, thinking of what you just said, Yacine, about framing your work.

YTF: That's beautiful. 

LO: Well, I thought that the character needed some introduction. First of all, I had gotten the grant from Creative Capital in 2015 to do this work. And I didn't give them a title. They didn't know anything about it really. And so now, I was actually doing it. And what I had given them was a title that was a generic title for me. It was Mademoiselle Bourgeoise Noire 30 Years Later, okay? But that was all it was. And so then, I had to come up with something that if you look at it, what on earth does that have to do with Mademoiselle Bourgeoise Noire, right? So I had realized that I had to do a bit of explaining as to what — before I actually started doing this work. 

In a way, it was kind of like hedging my bets. I didn't want to do something that I was presenting as my work and have it pre-judged or judged too quickly, do you understand? So I had to introduce it. So, the first thing I did was this six diptych installation, a photo installation that was part of our retrospective. It was called Announcement of the New Persona (Performances to Come). Well, people are not accustomed to having things done this way, so everybody thought, that's the performance. You know, that's it. And I said, well, no. That's just the introduction. That's just the start of the introduction to it, right?

So then, I realized I had to do some more introduction. And the second half of the introduction is the film that I've just done, Greetings and Theses. They introduced the different halves of this persona. One was more like her intrinsic character and the second one is more about the issues that she's going to have to deal with. And now, the next stuff that I do will be the real thing in the development of the persona. And I don't know where the persona's going. And I'm not exactly sure what media I'm going to use. But I'm sure it's going to be a big mix of media, [a] constantly changing mix of media. So, I'm saying this is what I'm going to do, but I haven’t done it yet. That's all. So, all I've done is bought myself some time.

TM: Love it.

AE: Let me just say, I love that you literally had a retrospective and in the retrospective, you let everyone know you're not done. I think that is so taking control. Talk about framing. Because a retrospective can frame it like, this is the work. It's finished. And you flipped it and were like, this is the work and this is what's next. We got to stay on our toes. And I like that it's set up in a way that as an academic reading and working and looking at your work, I have to stay on my toes. I can't come to a show, get the full story, and be done. I just think that's brilliant. It's brilliant from also just marketing, which I feel like in art is like a dirty word, you know? Lorraine will keep us on our toes. You controlled your framing on that. I just think it was brilliant. And the pictures, of course, are gorgeous, so there's that. They did hold up. The pictures could be the work and we would've accepted that. But I knew it wasn't. So it was one of those things where it's like, wow. Mind blown. You set that up.

I think framing is interesting because you get to frame your work in talks like this, right? You get to frame it whenever you do a social media post or you do interviews or you write about your own work. But I think there's something to framing that also goes into your resume, if that makes sense. I'm thinking in terms of just a little bit of strategy, but also people being able to see what you're thinking about helps them to frame. I feel like when I reveal what I'm reading, it helps to frame it. I started as a painter. I probably should've said that at the beginning. It helps people to frame me, you know? It helps people to see [the work] differently. Painters work in series. You know, you got your blue series forever. I'm in my castle series, you know what I mean? I think that there's something also about just what's in your resume, your catalog that also helps to frame you. And I think that it's important to be intentional about what you reveal in it to help other people come in and know you and get it right, you know what I mean?

YTF: Right. Framing is also language at this point as well, you know? Written language can provide that.

TM: Right, Lorraine, you've been doing that for decades.

YTF: Using written language to frame visual language. The language becomes the material. I think it's beautiful. I have one last question before we take questions from audience members.

TM: Can I say one thing?

YTF: Yeah, go ahead, yes.

TM: I just wanted to add also under Ayana's belt, the reason why she can recognize marketing so well is because she used to be a bougie bag maker.

YTF: Wow.

LO: And what's worse is when she was doing that, I said, "Oh, come on over to my place and I'm going to give you some bags," because I was getting ready to get rid of some bags that —

AE: I remember that.

LO: I was renouncing some bags, okay?

AE: Yes.

LO: So I took my bougie bags and gave them all to Ayana.

YTF: I love it. I love it, yup.

LO: Remember that, Ayana?

AE: I do remember that. You had a — one of them was a snakeskin. I remember that. And it had a really good pattern. So yeah, I remember that. You've always been supportive. Because I was like, I'm not making art anymore. I'm going to be a handbag designer and I'm done with art. You were like, okay.

LO: Okay, here's my bags.

AE: Right? Like, that's what we're doing? Okay. 

YTF: I'm weak.

JM: I love it.

LO: And they were all these kind of little handle bags.

AE: They were. So cute. They were like this.

LO: And you know that now, 20 years after that, I am going around with my little itty bitty bags again.

AE: The bags, the little bags. They were good bags though because you could read a book on the train. That's why I liked them. I was like, most of these could fit a book. They were small, yeah. No, you're right, Tsedaye. My marketing comes from fashion, honestly.

TM: And your choices from the boa to the cat suit. But I learned that through collaborating with you so much that I'm like, oh. This is the fashion coming out when you will put — you'll put what we wear —

AE: Yeah, I lay it out.

TM: She lays it out. And the abstract painter comes out because of color theory, the way you match colors.

AE: Yeah, I want the colors to pop a certain way. If they don't, I'm upset. That's not it. But I think though, marketing — I don't know. I'm bossy about marketing. Like, if you're working with a museum or something, I'm kind of like — I don't know. Do you do this ever, Lorraine? I'm a little like, what's the pitch going to be? How are you going to show me to these people? I always kind of want to know that or put my hand in it.

LO: Oh, I don't leave very much to chance, honey.

AE: Okay, that's what I thought. 

LO: Too much to lose.

AE: Right. So if you feed it to them, they’ll take it because it's almost like you did someone's job for them. You gave them the flyer, you gave them the hashtags.

LO: Because I know that if you leave it up to them altogether, they’ll take something that is something you're not going to be interested in. And all of the energy goes out—

AE: Goes out like a flat moon. It's just like, oh, wow. The sparkle left.

LO: You can't say they're not entitled to do that because they are. But then if they did do it, you lose so much energy and the ability to, you know, generate new thought—

AE: Yup. You kind of have to take control of that.

LO: Yeah.

TM: Totally.

YTF: So, I'm curious. Is there anything that you guys would want to change or emphasize in regards to how your work is remembered or how it exists? Because it's giving we're framing these artists as forever artists. The work never dies. But I'm curious about the goal of the work, if that's changed for you in a sense, if there's a verb — we work with verbs. We're performance artists. We know what the work does, you know what I mean? So I'm curious if there's a thing that you're doing right now or a thing that you want the work to forever do that is a word you can give me. And we'll maybe end the discussion here. 

LO: Yacine, you had another question that you didn't get around to asking that really kind of — I was kind of eager to answer. So can I —

YTF: Yes, please.

LO: I mean, I think I answered it yesterday. I can't remember.

YTF: Oh no, please. Let's go.

LO: This was the question you asked about what was the most important thing that somebody ever told you.

YTF: Yes. Yeah, what tool were you given that you still use and go back to?

LO: And it wasn't exactly that somebody told me. But when I was at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and it was still the day of harlequin romance and everything. And everybody thought that they could do one of those novels in 30 days and get enough for tuition and food and rent for the rest of the year, right? Year after year, people would come there and say, "Oh, I'll write a harlequin romance and have it all made." And year after year, they would always get the manuscript returned to them with the same statement: "Are you trying to make fun of our readers?"

And so, the general focus of the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the time I was there was that this story, this — who knows how apocryphal it is, but whatever — this story about the harlequin romance editors said the lesson that you were supposed to learn from that — and it's one that I certainly learned — was that you cannot write less well than you write. 

YTF: Say that again?

LO: You cannot write less well than you can write.

YTF: Okay.

LO: As soon as you start trying to dumb yourself down or cater yourself to an audience or do whatever it is, you're not going to be who you can be. You're going to be something else and it's not going to be as good.

YTF: Right. Wow. Yeah. 

LO: So, you can't write less well than you write. You can't make visual art less well than you make visual art. You can't adapt yourself in advance to a situation that may not even be relevant in the first place.

YTF: Wow, I really needed to hear that. 

LO: That's how I've lived, you know? I counted many a temptation. And I can't say that I haven’t tried because I have tried to simplify my work, to simplify it in the sense of instead of making it overly narrative, going into the mythological. Because myth is simplification of narrative, you know? It's the simplest element, the narrative. And I worked very, very hard to simplify my work so that people could understand it. And what I got for that was almost 30 years of being considered a simplistic artist. Do you understand? That was the result. They didn't understand that this was simplicity. They just thought that it was simplistic. I mean, you know, not everybody. But I would say that there were a lot of people who wrote off my work because they thought it was really simplistic because they weren’t seeing what I was aiming for as the mythological. 

YTF: I think it's interesting to think about what happens when you're working with complexity so closely and so often, and what you distill is what people understand as simple. When in reality, like myth and like poetry — I love to relate performance to poetry because for me, performances are poems, you know? In the sense of how they relate to time. But even thinking about the fact that in a poem, you can use certain words and put together certain phrases that in them is all of that complexity embedded, you know? 

In the same respect as myths. I think that's very beautiful. I'm curious, Tsedaye and Ayana, if there was any — in the same respect of tools that might've been, you know, offered or that you might have received throughout the course of your career so far. Things that you've held onto that have guided the way that you've worked, you know? And leaning on that. I know maybe it might be a quote from Lorraine. So I'm curious, Ayana.

AE: You know, when you said that yesterday, I thought about it and I have two answers, or maybe three. One is not about art altogether. And it might not be healthy, but it's definitely guided how I work. We have to work twice as hard to get just as far because you're a woman and you're Black. I was told that growing up over and over again by older people, older relatives. Not in school. But it was something that I was told when I said, "Oh, it's hard for me to get an A." Well, you need to work — you need to just do whatever it is, maneuver to get to. So, on one level, maybe not totally healthy because it puts the labor on you to make up for the racism or the this, whatever prejudice you come up against. You're making up for that in extra work and it doesn't put it on the person to adjust themselves for you. So while acknowledging that, it also put me in a mindset where I'm always trying to figure out, what's my maneuver to pass this barrier? So there's that. That's very old school, southern Black.

Then there is Lorraine's influence in my life, you said to me once, your existence is the quote. Do you see what I'm saying? There's somebody before me who already thinks in terms of abstract actions and already thinks in terms of concept and art and academia, right? It's all there. But at the same time, you still could be my girlfriend and I could be like, "He broke my heart and I can't answer my email." I can have that in one person. And you get the shows, right?  So, seeing that makes other things feel like, yeah, I could do this. It's not really a quote, but it's like when you look at certain people who touch at what you do and do it bravely, you're kind of like, oh, I can do that, too. It might not look the same, but it's like a permission, right?

LO: Yeah.

AE: And the third answer to that is way more boring and classic which is that I was at a point in my career and I was like, I'm not getting any press. I don't know why I'm not getting press. And I asked my writer friend, "Why am I not getting press? You're a writer. You'd know." And the answer was, "You're not checking the boxes that they need to check so that when I post your stuff or it gets put online, it gets a lot of clicks." And I don't think you should change your work to get a lot of clicks. But it's interesting that you can just start naming things, words, and you get clicks. Name feminism. Name Blackness. Name boldness. Name being unapologetically yourself. Name it and it gets you clicks.

I was trying to just describe the work, meaning just describe the process only. And that wasn't connecting to the press. It connected to the audience. It connected to other artists. Didn't connect to the press. So, being told that there are words that apply to your work, authentically apply, but you got to say them real plain in your email to these people —

YTF: Somebody just commented, "The Black artist checklist."

AE: Yeah. But if no one tells you there's a checklist happening at the office —

YTF: Right, that's true.

TM: This applies to grants too, right?

AE: It definitely applies to grants. There are key words. Like, even Lorraine, when you said that making work that doesn't look like the next thing because people are used to seeing a series, it hurts you with grants, or it could. So then, you have to frame it so they understand all of this goes together. And the thing is —

LO: Breadth artist as opposed to depth artist.

AE: Exactly. You have to tell them that.

LO: Yeah, you have to always appear intentional. That's all I'll say.

AE: So, someone unlocking that was a big thing for me. But those three things are working for me all the time, I think.

TM: And you've told me that, Ayana, because I had that moment. You were like, keep it simple. What are the words that — what are the catchphrases that people are using right now? Apply that to what you're doing, you know? Okay, yeah. Two things: one is my mom. My mom has always said to me you have to know yourself, which is so simple. But it didn't click until my 30s. And I was like — I remember being like, I know myself. My name is Tsedaye Makonnen. And she's like, no. It's not that basic, you know? You have to know yourself. 

But if she felt like explaining it, then she would go into — when you know yourself, you can't get played. You can't get bullied. You can't get finessed, abused, scammed. Go down the list. Because when you know yourself, you just — no one can take that from you, right? No one can play you. And when I was like 33 I was like, oh. Okay. I know myself now. Or I'm getting to know myself, you know what I mean? And I'm sure performance art helped me get there, too, going back to what we were saying before.

The other [piece of advice] is thinking about one of my mentors when I was studying sculpture in Nigeria, I don't know how many years ago. We were in the car together and someone had called him from another city or country and it was like "We have this award for you that we really want to give you." He was working on several important series that were going to be shown at major museums around the world. And they were like, "But we need you to come and collect this award." And he was like, "So you're" — he talks like this in a lot of ways. He uses metaphors a lot. He's like, "So, you're asking a fish to jump out of his fishbowl to come meet you, for what?" He's like, "You're asking me to leave the environment that is keeping me alive and sustaining me to come to you to die." He's like, "No, if you want to give me awards, just send it to me. I got work to do. I'm not leaving my studio." So when I have my moments where I can see that I'm stepping outside of my own boundaries for any reason, especially in the art world, I'm like, I'm leaving my fishbowl. 

JM: I love that.

YTF: I'm stealing that. I love that. Fish? Yes.

JM: I want to hold my promise of doing a few audience chat questions, I'm going to introduce a few to you guys. Feel free to jump in and answer in whatever order, unless they're specified. I have one question here for all three of you. “Is there something you'd like to say to your younger self?”

TM: Well, I'll jump in. I was wild when I was younger. I mean, I feel like in my adult life now, I've come back to myself. Because, I was wild. My parents didn't have another child for nine years because they were like, "You were 20 kids in one." Very independent. Always up to no good. A straight troll. I used to hide from my parents for fun and they'd call the police because they thought I was missing. Yeah, just horrible. 

YTF: Wow.

TM: Went to the hospital many times because I played really rough and I was a risk taker and I would do wild things and break stuff and have to get sewed up. Anyways —

YTF: Performing since birth, seriously.

TM: Yeah, but I lost that bit of myself for a good chunk of my life because I started to adjust to please other people, to fit in. And if I were to go back, I wish I'd have been like, "Girl, you should just [be yourself]" — because that is what has gotten me here. And that's what I'm pulling from. All of the good things that are happening to me now is because I'm tapped into that person from my childhood. Yeah. I wish I had kept her. 

YTF: To that note, somebody actually made a comment that all of of your inner children seem very strong.

JM: Fabiola, yeah. Fabiola. Shout out to Fabi.

YTF: She nailed it.

JM: Lorraine, Ayana, y'all have anything to say to your younger selves?

AE: Well, I think honestly, I would just say it's going to be okay. And you should listen to your mother. I used to never listen to my mother. On big things, on little things, I was always like, you don't know. I can get a perm. You don't know. And she was always right. She was always right. Even when she told me everything's going to work out, I'd be still freaking out worrying about whatever, from a test to a job that I was getting treated horribly at. I used to really — I still worry, but I mean, the level of worry I had younger or the level of thinking about worrying about what other people thought of me, I would just say let that go. It's going to be all right.

LO: Well, you know, there's a reason why I didn't start making my first art until I was 45. I was fooling around a lot. And I suppose I would say to myself — what would I say? I would say, "Your salvation is in yourself, not a man." And the second thing that I would say is, "Surround yourself with likeminded people as soon as you can, even if it means you have to keep quiet for years at a time," you know? Because you don't have anything to contribute to the conversation. It's better to be in a conversation you can't contribute to than to be in one that's irrelevant.

JM: Jesus.

YTF: Somebody put that on a shirt. We have to have an entire document of just the quotes that were said.

JM: I'm transcribing it. Don't worry, don't worry. I'm going to transcribe. 

YTF: Yes, so that we can print it and have it somewhere. I need it in book form to refer back to.

JM: Y'all about to take me out. Thank you, Lorraine. I'm trying to see if there are any —

YTF: A few more questions.

JM: Okay, so this seems to be like a caveat from an earlier question. But, what do you have to say to your older self? You talked about younger self. Now we're future casting here.

TM: I'm thinking about your film, Lorraine, that has been shown before, but we got to see at Loophole where I think you were in the armor and you kept saying something along the lines of, "I don't want to do this anymore, but I got to get up," and you kept doing that gesture.

AE: Yeah, it was like, keep going.

TM: Keep going. And I think that's, yeah, that's what I want to tell my older self. Because, lord, so many days where where I said to myself, "Oh, fuck this. I don't want to do this anymore."

LO: That quote was, "You must go on. I can't go on. I will go on."

TM: Yes, yes. That. 

LO: That's actually a quote that I can't claim too much credit for. I repurposed the line and I changed the line a bit, but it's basically from Samuel Beckett's The Unnamable. So, you know, that's another thing. Take advice from wherever you can get it.

AE: That's true.

LO: You know, because if you limit yourself to the people that are just like you, they're not going to know any more than you do, right? Or they're not going to know any differently than you do. What would you say to your older self? This is a joke, right? Right now, I have to say, well, just keep going. Just keep going and do the best you can. And you already know that you're not going to be able to do as much as you want. So, just keep on going anyway. 

JM: Ayana?

AE: I don't know. Shoot, I'd probably just thank you because she's going to be tired by then depending on how much older. Thanks for hanging in there. Let's hope that I'm somebody worth thanking when I'm older.

YTF: I'm sure.

AE: That's kind of the goal.

LO: Right, Ayana, you have no idea how highly the world is going to regard you.

YTF: Amen.

LO: I believe they're all going to believe. 

AE: You just made me tear up, Lorraine.

JM: All right, let me see what I can fit in before 7:45—

YTF: We have literally three minutes. There are two questions.

JM: Okay, here's the one that I see. I apologize if I didn't get to you. Charge it to time and not my heart. Lorraine, this is for you. We'll have you close this out. "How do you feel becoming an artist so late in your life, and has it impacted your career overall?"

LO: Well, the fact is that you can't foreclose any of the necessary steps toward having a lasting career. So, just because you start late doesn't mean that you get out of doing all that stuff. It just means you have to work twice as hard to cram it all in. You still have to do it. So, in other words, I'm having to work — I mean, basically, I have a career right now of somebody who's in their 40s and hot. 

AE: Very hot.

YTF: Right, very hot. I was about to say, this is so hot. Yes, yes. Oh my god. The way to close this out, yes.

JM: I love that. Well, thank you all for your questions. Yacine, thank you for trusting us with your ideas and your questions. Tsedaye, Lorraine, Ayana, my goodness. I’m just so happy that you've made time for us today. And to the audience, thank you all for being here and for your questions— I feel like the chat gave me all the energy and love that I needed, even though we're not in the same room together. The exhibition is still up. It is closing soon. It closes November 12th. So, please stop by. We're open Thursday through Saturday. 

YTF: Keep going. Somebody take the show. Gather more Black women, Black artists from another city and have them show themselves and their own disciplines the way that they want together. Let's talk about complexity and nail it.

JM: Shout out to Marceline. I saw you up in here!

YTF: All the other artists, Holly Bass, Renee Cox, Muse Dodd, we're so grateful. I'm so grateful that you guys even agreed to spend some time with us tonight and to just agree to be vulnerable and very open. So, I cannot thank you enough for the work that I know is natural and secondhand nature to you, but a blessing and a gift to us in the field as well.

TM: Well said, Yacine.

JM: Wait, Lorraine wanted to say something.

LO: I just wanted to say thank you for the work that you guys put in. I mean, it's really enabled one of the best Zooms I've ever been on really.  

YTF: God. I'm putting that on a shirt.

JM: No, I am, too.

LO: We don't often get this opportunity. At least for the three of us.

YTF: Well, this is to many more.

JM: Yeah, to many more.

YTF: To many more of these moments and these opportunities and chances to talk. Thank you all so much. Thank you. Everybody clap it up for them. 

JM: Have a good evening, y'all. Thank y'all.

YTF: Thank you so much. Have a great night.


About the Participating Artists

Ayana Evans is a NYC-based performance artist. Her guerilla-style performances have been staged at El Museo del Barrio, The Barnes Foundation, The Bronx Museum, Crystal Bridges, Newark Museum, the Queens Museum, and a variety of public locations. Her performances have been reviewed in The New York TimesBomb MagazineArtNetHyperallergic, and New York Magazine’s The Cut. Her international work includes participation in the FIAP performance festival in Martinique, The Pineapple Show at Tiwani Contemporary in London, and Ghana’s Chale Wote Festival, which drew 30,000 people. In 2015, she received the Jerome Foundation’s Theater and Travel Study Grant for artistic research abroad. Evans was a 2018 Fellow in the Studio Immersion Program at EFA’s Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, a 2018 resident and grant recipient at Artists Alliance Inc., a 2017-2018 awardee of the Franklin Furnace Fund for performance art, a 2018 New York Foundation of the Arts Fellow in Interdisciplinary Arts, a 2021-2022 Jerome Hill Artist Fellow, and a 2022 Chamberlain Award winner for social practice and residency at Headlands Center for the Arts. Her other past residencies include Yaddo, Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and the Vermont Studio Center. Before becoming an adjunct lecturer for graduate studies at Brooklyn College and an undergraduate professor at NYU, Evans was Professor of the Practice at Brown University. 

Tsedaye Makonnen is an artist-curator, mother, and birthworker of East African descent. Her studio practice primarily focuses on intersectional feminism, reproductive health, and migration. Her intention is to create a spiritual network around the world that re-calibrates the energy towards something positive and life-affirming. In 2019, Makonnen was a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow and staged two interventions at the Venice Biennale. In 2021, her light sculptures were acquired by the Smithsonian for their permanent collection and she published the book Black Women as/and the Living Archive. Makonnen is also the recipient of a permanent large-scale public art commission for Providence, Rhode Island. In Fall 2022, she performed at the Venice Biennale for Simone Leigh’s Loophole Retreat. She is the inaugural Clark Art Institute’s Futures Fellow as well as a Franklin Furnace Fund award recipient. In 2023, Tsedaye will be exhibiting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bard Graduate Center, and The Walters Art Museum. She is currently represented by Addis Fine Art. She lives between DC and London with her partner and children.

Lorraine O’Grady is a conceptual artist and cultural critic whose work over four decades has employed the diptych, or at least the diptych idea, as its primary form. She has consistently addressed issues of diaspora, hybridity, and black female subjectivity and has emphasized the formative roles these have played in the history of modernism. O’Grady uses the diptych (both/and thinking) to frame her themes as symptoms of a larger problem, that of the divisive and hierarchical either/or categories underpinning Western philosophy. In O’Grady’s works across various genres—including text, photo-installation, video, and performance—multiple emotions and ideas coexist. Personal and aesthetic attitudes often considered contradictory, such as anger and joy, or classicism and surrealism, are not distinguished. Even technical means seem governed by both chance and obsessive control so as to express political argument and unapologetic beauty simultaneously. And across the whole, essays and images interpenetrate. While O’Grady’s diptychs are sometimes explicit, with two images side by side, at other times they are implicit, as when two types of hair—silk and tumbleweed, videotaped on the same scalp at different hours of the same day—alternate and interact to create permeating worlds. The goal of her diptychs is not to bring about a mythic “reconciliation of opposites,” but rather to enable or even force a conversation between dissimilars long enough to induce familiarity. For O’Grady, the diptych helps to image the kind of “both/and” or “miscegenated” thinking that may be needed to counter and destabilize the West’s either/or binary of “winners or losers,” one that is continuously birthing supremacies, from the intimate to the political, of which white supremacy may be only the most all-inclusive.

O’Grady’s paper archive is in the collection of the Wellesley College Library. Among O’Grady’s writings, the 1992/94 long-form essay “Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity” has proved an enduring contribution to the fields of art history and intersectional feminism that is now considered canonical. O’Grady’s art works have been acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Modern Art, Tate Modern, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.


November 29, 2022