National Museum of Women in the Arts
Lorraine O'Grady
September 21 1934 - present
Photograph of Lorraine O'Grady, courtesy of the artist
Place of Birth:
Phonetic Spelling:
lorr-AYN oh-GRAY-dee
Minority status:
Work Type/Media:
Performance Art , Photography
Artistic Role(s):
Performance Artist, Photographer, Photomontagist
Feminist Art
Artist's Biography:
Through her performance pieces and photo-installations, Lorraine O’Grady has actively contributed to racial discourse since the 1980s. O’Grady was born in Boston, MA in 1934 into an upper-middle class family of Jamaican immigrants. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1955, and from 1965 to 1967 pursued a master’s degree in fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. O’Grady eventually moved to New York where she started developing an interest in art while taking an English class at the School of Visual Arts in 1973. She also began volunteering at the Just Above Midtown Gallery where she connected with influential members of the Black visual arts community.

O’Grady’s observation that many African-American artists in New York failed to take risks stimulated her artistic debut in 1980 with the performance piece Mlle Bourgeoisie Noire at the Just Above Midtown Gallery. The artist in the guise of a beauty queen dressed in a gown crafted from white dinner gloves paraded through the audience lashing herself with a whip and shouting protest poems against the conformism of the art world. O’Grady’s subsequent works, including a series of collected photographs juxtaposing family portraits with images of ancient Egyptians, further explored racial themes such as miscegenation, diaspora, and black female subjectivity.

O’Grady currently resides in New York and California where she is a faculty member of the Department of Studio Art at the University of California at Irvine. She also educates others on racial issues through her writings and lectures. O’Grady has received many honors including a Fellowship with The Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute at Harvard University in 1995 and a Senior Fellowship from 1997 to 1999 at The Vera List Center for Arts and Politics of The New School in New York.

Other Occupation(s):
Critic, Lecturer, Teacher, Writer
Place(s) of Residence:
New York
Where Trained/Schools:
Iowa Writers’ Workshop, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA (1965-1967) Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, USA (1951-1955)
Related Visual Artists:
influenced by Vito Acconci influenced by Adrian Piper
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Senior Fellowship, The Vera List Center for Arts and Politics, The New School, New York, NY, USA (1997-1999) Fellowship, The Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA (1995-1996) Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC, USA (1983)
Earliest exhibition:
Mlle Bourgeoise Noire, Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York, NY, USA (1980)
NMWA exhibition(s):
WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution
Artist retrospective(s):