press release

venue: Carpenter Center

Lorraine O'Grady: Where Margins Become Centers

In a career spanning four decades, Lorraine O'Grady has consistently pursued a multidisciplinary practice that challenges the societal conventions through which we understand and interpret gender, class, sexuality, art history, and race. She burst onto the New York scene in the early 1980s with her performance Mlle Bourgeoise Noire (Miss Black Middle-Class), a beauty queen persona in a pageant gown made of 180 pairs of white gloves, whipping a cat-o'-nine-tails at openings and shouting poems against the racial divides permeating the black and white art worlds. O'Grady subsequently found her way through photography, performance, writing, photomontage, and film to critically engage complicated power structures, institutions, and social constructs. Her potent observations on feminist histories, interracial relationships, biculturalism, and Western subjectivity are 
no less topical today and, in fact, even more urgent as we routinely bear witness on social media and news outlets to the dualisms between black identity and white identity, rich and poor, females and males.

The exhibition Lorraine O'Grady: Where Margins Become Centers features art from five bodies 
of work, including photography, film, collage, performance documentation, and writing. The works of art and archival documents collected for this exhibition reveal the artist's ongoing interest in critiquing the systemic powers affecting social behavior. O'Grady was born in Boston to upper-middle-class West Indian parents and educated at Wellesley College. Her inherited biculturalism—a young black woman coming of age in Anglo-Saxon New England—and participation in interracial relationships are grounds for 
a unique perspective from both within and on
 the periphery of diverse social spheres. Juxtaposing and collaging seemingly disparate dichotomies, the artist
 uses the extreme margins to explore the central undergirding and structures that support social oppositions. Her work challenges what is unwittingly or involuntarily agreed upon on a society-wide scale in a march toward dismantling accepted constructs. Her visual art and writing ultimately disturb consensus as an overall means of cultural criticism.

Artist talk: Lorraine O'Grady, November 17, 6pm, organized in conjunction with and support from the Harvard Art Museums.


Shahryar Nashat: Skins and Stand-ins

Shahryar Nashat uses photography, sculpture, performance, and video to disrupt and reframe acts of looking in order to bring the uninvited or disregarded into the forefront. He works with figurative and abstract sculpture to push against frequently circulated—and often idealized—representations in visual and intellectual culture. His impulse is to direct our gaze toward the appearance of objects and movement of human bodies that art history, modern dance, sports, Minimalism, fashion, and advertising have ignored or pushed aside. Nashat thus draws attention to and prioritizes the vulnerable and the fragile—the seemingly imperfect. And as part of this process of reframing the way we see things, he emphasizes the permeability of human skin and its susceptibility to scratches, punctures, and tears. In doing so, he fixates on both the concept and construction of the prosthesis. This extension and support for the body is laden with great potential for release from a deeply engrained understanding, and thus expectations, of how a body should look and move, something other than notions of perfection—something that is independent and autonomous from canonical orders.

Installed on Level 1 of Le Corbusier's 1963 Carpenter Center and intervening in the galleries of the adjacent Harvard Art Museums, the exhibition Shahryar Nashat: Skins and Stand-ins features a combination of video, sculpture, architectural interventions, and commissions that create a cohesive environment where the sensibilities and physicality of spectators become formally implicated in the artist's inquiries.

Lorraine O'Grady: Where Margins Become Centers and Shahryar Nashat: Skins and Stand-ins are curated by James Voorhies, John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Director.