Lorraine O'Grady ’55
Conceptual Artist, Cultural Critic
Lorraine O’Grady is a conceptual artist and cultural critic whose installations, performances, and texts address issues of diaspora, hybridity, and black female subjectivity. In 2007, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, her landmark 1980 performance, was made an entry point to the touring exhibit “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution.” Since then, O’Grady’s career has expanded exponentially—with inclusions in such significant group shows as the Whitney Biennial (2010); the Paris Triennale (2012); “This Will have Been: Art Love and Politics in the 1980s” (MCA Chicago, 2012); “Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art” (CAM Houston, 2012); “En Mas’: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean” (CAC New Orleans, 2015); “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85” (Brooklyn Museum, 2017); and “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, 1963-1983” (Tate Modern, London, 2017).
Born in Boston to West Indian parents, O’Grady came to art late, after studying in the fiction program of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and having several careers. She worked for the United States Government as a research economist and intelligence analyst on Latin American and African labor affairs at the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and as a contract analyst at the Department of State’s Intelligence Research Bureau, American Republics branch. O’Grady has been a literary and commercial translator, owning a translation agency with up to 24 employees. As a freelance journalist, she wrote music feature articles and reviews for publications such as the Village Voice and Rolling Stone.
O’Grady has curated exhibitions and written extensively about the art world in prominent journals. Major public collections of her work include the Davis Museum and Cultural Center, the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center, the Tate Modern and the Harvard Art Museums. At Wellesley, she majored in economics and minored in Spanish literature.