Lorraine O’Grady

USA (1934). Lives and works in New York.

Body/Ground series
The Clearing, or Cortez and La Malinche, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, N. and Me, 1991–2012
Silver gelatin print
128 x 102.4 cm
The Fir-Palm, 1991–2012
Silver gelatin print
128 x 102.4 cm

Taking on an eclectic and feminist attitude to present intellectual content that is both rigorous and political, Lorraine O’Grady uses her work to draw attention to issues as varied as the diaspora, hybridization, identity, and humanist gender study. She has generated controversy by bringing up subjects that make people uncomfortable, introducing taboos that show us we have not yet transcended our postcolonial conditioning.

Body/Ground, the abbreviated title for Body Is the Ground of My Experience, is a series of photomontages produced for her first solo exhibition in 1991. These do not make up a series per se. The title refers to O’Grady’s artistic position and critical ideas at a time when she was concerned that postmodernity had simplified issues, transferring subjectivity from the body to history according to the needs of the power structures. Although the body has always felt the weight of history, it is also a point from which to exert resistance.

In The Fir-Palm, a black, colonized, female body becomes the land in which the fir-palm grows (a cross between the New England fir tree and the Caribbean palm and an identity symbol for the author who was born in Boston to Jamaican parents). The tree grows towards a clouded sky, which symbolizes the social anxiety that mixed-race people experience. To her, the landscape we occupy is a mixture of the colonized body and the land that has been transplanted. She considered hybridization to be a concept that we insist upon ignoring but that must be considered in order to understand what we are today.