Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, O'Grady's second performance, premiered at Just Above Midtown Gallery on October 31, 1980. In an unexpected turn of events, just one month after Mlle Bourgeoise Noire's invasion of the avant-garde gallery protesting the timidity of its artists, Linda Goode Bryant, the gallery's visionary founder-director, had invited O'Grady to represent JAM in Dialogues, an exhibit she was creating to showcase nearly a dozen downtown alternative art spaces. The exhibit would feature a performance series.
O'Grady accepted JAM's invitation, but the new occasion was fundamentally different than Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, the performance announcing her to the art world, and felt a bit alien to her more radical Dadaist intentions. Rather than a self-motivated, unexpected guerrilla invasion, the new piece would be commissioned for a paying audience seated expectantly in chairs. Interestingly, her response to such situations would be similar throughout her career, an increased emphasis on the personal over the political element, though both would always be there. In this case, unlike the joyful anger motivating Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, the new work would be characterized by somber but still critical mourning in a memorial to her deceased older sister, Devonia Evangeline.
The new performance examined the difficult relationship of O'Grady and her sibling via historic comparison to similarly troubled sisters, Nefertiti and the younger Mutnedjmet. Through subject matter that was intensely personal, she also addressed political targets such as doomed attempts to identify with "African" cultures and to resurrect their rituals then current in certain strains of African-American art. At the same time, she also critiqued the undoubted racism of Egyptology as a discipline. O'Grady was hardly a trained actress or dramatist, but the period's open performance aesthetic enabled her "writing in space" to express ideas she would otherwise not attain.
Unpublished email exchange, 1998The most comprehensive and focused interview of O’Grady to date, this Q & A by a Duke University doctoral candidate benefited from the slowness of the email format, the African American feminist scholar’s deep familiarity with O’Grady’s work, and their personal friendship.
© Lorraine O’Grady, 1982Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio, March 22, 1982
© College Art Association 1997In this article for Art Journal, Winter 1997, the special issue on performance edited by Martha Wilson, O’Grady focuses first on Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, then discusses its relationship to Miscegenated Family Album, alluding to the advantages and disadvantages of the move from performance to photo installation.
© Lorraine O'Grady 1994
Written shortly after the “Postscript” to “Olympia’s Maid,” this lecture delivered to the Wellesley Round Table, a faculty symposium on Miscegenated Family Album, takes a retrospective look at O’Grady’s earlier life and work through the prism of cultural theory.
June 1986*Montano’s questions on “ritual” cast interesting light on the connection between O’Grady’s early life and her performances. The unedited transcript of the interview contains answers in greater depth on Mlle Bourgeoise Noire and Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline.
by Ancient Art Podcast, on Monday, July 6, 2009, 8:04pmComplete transcript of podcast by Lucas Livingston, an Egyptologist associated with the Art Institute of Chicago, which discusses Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline and Miscegenated Family Album in detail. Also a YouTube video with high-quality images.
Judith Wilson, 1991. . . . Further Adventures: From the Nile Valley to 125th Street. . . and Back Again. . .
by Nick Mauss, 2009
Mauss’s article for Artforum is, with Wilson’s INTAR catalogue essay, one of the most extended and authoritative pieces on O’Grady’s oeuvre to date. It was one-half of a two-article feature that also included O’Grady’s artist portfolio for The Black and White Show.
. . . . "I confess, in my work I keep trying to yoke together my underlying concerns as a member of the human species with my concerns as a woman and black in America. It's hard, and sometimes the work splits in two—within a single piece, or between pieces. But I keep trying, because I don't see how history can be divorced from ontogeny and still produce meaningful political solutions". . . .
One month after Mlle Bourgeoise Noire's invasion of Just Above Midtown, O'Grady was invited by the gallery's founder-director, Linda Goode Bryant, to participate in a performance showcase called "Dialogues." O'Grady's contribution, Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, 1980, juxtaposed the story of her relationship to her estranged sister, Devonia, with a chronicle of Nefertiti's relationship to her younger sister, Mutnedjmet. The first part of the performance consisted of side-by-side projections of slides of Nefertiti and Devonia and their families, set to a sound track that narrated the stories of the women's lives, one from a historical point of view, the other from the point of view of the little sister (O'Grady). The progression of slide pairings activated a flickering of resemblance and dissemblance, thanks to the often uncanny similitude between the projected faces or the noble poses and the contrast or correlation between the trajectories of the title characters' lives. "They die at the ages of thirty-seven and thirty eight respectively," O'Grady later explained, "Nefertiti in 1344 BC after a banishment of six years, and Devonia in 1962 from the complications of an illegal abortion. The screens contain sarcophagi with lifted lids."
In the second part of the performance, O'Grady herself came onstage wearing a red caftan and attempted to enact the narrator's directions for the ancient-Egyptian Opening of the Mouth ceremony, the last ritual before burial, whose function was to free the deceased for a full afterlife. O'Grady's demonstrative struggle and failure to fulfill the commands of the tape-recorded voice pronounced the hope for and ultimate ineffectuality of reconciliation through art. As images of the two "sisters" reappeared on the screen, O'Grady approached the projected faces and struck their mouths with an adze as the tape proclaimed, "Hail, Osiris! I have opened your mouth for you. I have opened your two eyes for you." If, as O'Grady recounts, many members of the audience perceived the juxtaposition of her own middle-class family with ancient-Egyptian royalty as arrogant, their verdict missed the greater provocation of her conceptual linking. In an interview with Linda Montano, O'Grady states, "Putting a picture of Nefertiti beside my sister was a political action." Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline enacted legitimate pain in a complicated work of mourning, triangulating between the present and two irretrievable pasts. . . .
By Patricia S. Jones. 1980Patricia S. Jones discusses a downtown gallery performance series at Just Above Midtown, NYC, Oct 1980 in a late 70s-early 80s annual journal. Article makes special note of O’Grady’s first performance of Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline.
© 2009 Lorraine O'Grady | All rights reserved.