My thanks to the Jane Austen Society of North America, Greater Chicago Region for the opportunity to research and present this lecture. This web page gathers many of the quotes, references, and resources featured in my presentation. Continue reading
7. “‘Miscegenated Family Album’ at Alexander Gray Associates (New York), September 10–November 11, 2008.” ARTINFO, 1 Nov 2008. Accessed 7/6/2009. http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/29166/lorraine-ogrady/
On October 31, 1980 at Just Above Midtown Gallery in New York City, artist Lorraine O’Grady, dressed in a long red robe, debuted her new work of performance art. On a dark stage with a slideshow backdrop and dramatic recorded narration, O’Grady enacted hypnotic, ritualized motions, like the priestess of an ancient mystery cult, incanting magicks over vessels of sacred sand and offerings blessings of protection to the projected images of the Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti and her late sister Devonia Evangeline O’Grady Allen. In the piece entitled Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, Lorraine O’Grady confronted her relationship with her sister through the lens of Nefertiti and Nefertiti’s own apparent sister, Mutnedjmet — a relationship which O’Grady felt would have been equally troubled. O’Grady’s sister Devonia tragically died just a few short weeks after the two of them had finally begun speaking after many years of a strained relationship.
Inspired two years later after a trip to Egypt, O’Grady began researching Queen Nefertiti and her famed family of the Amarna Period. While in Egypt, O’Grady encountered a new found feeling of belonging — as the artist says in her own words, “surrounded for the first time by people who looked like me” (Art Journal 56:4, Winter 1997, p. 64). Of African, Caribbean, and Irish descent, O’Grady never felt a similar sense of kinship in her homes of Boston and Harlem. In a New York Times article from September 26, 2008, “she remembers her youthful efforts to balance what she has called her family’s ‘tropical middle-and-upper class British colonial values’ with the Yankee, Irish-American and African-American cultures around her.” Building on a resemblance that she long thought her sister had with Nefertiti, she was struck by what she saw as narrative and visual resemblances throughout both families. While pairing members of her own family with those of Nefertiti, O’Grady weaves together various narratives connecting personal stories with historical events (Alexander Gray Associates press release, 10 Sep 2008).
In 1994, from the performance piece Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline originally composed of 65 photographic comparisons, O’Grady took about a fifth of the diptychs and framed them in an installation piece entitled Miscegenated Family Album, which has been exhibited in various galleries, including the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008. O’Grady’s work often focuses on black female identity and subjectivity, as well as cultural and ethnic hybridization. Miscegenation, in the title of the piece, is the procreation between members of different races, which was still illegal in much of the US as late as 1967, when it was finally overturned by the Supreme Court.
The ethnic identities of Nefertiti and Akhenaten have been debated in the spheres of Egyptology and African studies, with no immediate end in sight. Not quite as much as Cleopatra, but still. In Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline and Miscegenated Family Album, O’Grady directly confronts the racism of a white-dominated, Western-European interpretation to the field of Egyptology. While the notion of a black African cultural and ethnic influence on Ancient Egypt is frequently discussed today, we should bear in mind that in 1980, when O’Grady first performed Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, this was still seven years before the publication of Martin Bernal’s highly acclaimed and criticized work Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization.
Now, I’m not saying that the sub-Saharan African influence on Egyptian civilization is definitively confirmed. It’s still a hotly debated issue with many shades of gray. Ancient Egypt was a huge nation surviving thousands of years. And during that time there was frequent contact with surrounding countries, including periods of foreign occupation. By the time of Nefertiti and Akhenaten in the mid to late 14th century BC, parts of Egypt were pretty ethnically diverse, which likely got even more ethnically diverse as the centuries led up to the Ptolemaic period of Cleopatra. I’m excited to see that the University of Manchester museum will be hosting a conference on “Egypt in its African Context” on October 3rd and 4th, 2009. You can read about the conference online. The URL’s kinda long: www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/collection/ancientegypt/conference. [As of at least 12/22/2010, this link is no longer active. Visit http://egyptmanchester.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/egypt-in-its-african-context-programme1.pdf for a PDF of the conference agenda. Visit http://egyptmanchester.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/sally-ann-ashton-talking-at-the-manchester-museum-at-the-conference-egypt-in-its-african-context-3-4-october-2009/ for videos.] So, check out the transcript at ancientartpodcast.org for the link or see my recent tweet on Twitter at “lucaslivingston.”
One point that we need to bear in mind when considering the ethnicity of Ancient Egyptians is the baggage we bring with us to the discussion. We all have a lot of baggage, but what I’m specifically talking about is the whole preoccupation with ethnicity. I don’t know about kids these days, but not too long ago when I was a wee lad, every American schoolboy or girl could tell your their heritage, breaking it down by the percentage. Blame it on the African diaspora, Western imperialism, or Ellis Island, but I would argue that this obsession with the argument over whether the Ancient Egyptians were black, white, Greek, Berber, or other is something of a modern development. The Egyptians were an ethnically diverse lot and they would have said to us “So what!?” What mattered to the Egyptians was that you were Egyptian. You don’t hear of Ancient Egyptian race riots.
The beauty of O’Grady’s Miscegenated Family Album is that it looks more than skin-deep. O’Grady draws a few parallels between her sister Devonia and Nefertiti. They both marry, have daughters, and perform ceremonials functions — one as a priestess, the other as a bride. Devonia passed away at the age of 37 before the two sisters could fully reconcile their differences. Nefertiti suddenly vanished from the written record after the 12th year of Akhenaten’s reign, around the year 1341. Back in the 1980’s when O’Grady was researching for her performance piece Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, the prevalent theories for Nefertiti’s disappearance involved her death or fall from grace, perhaps due to Akhenaten elevating another consort to Great Royal Wife. Akhenaten did, in fact, elevate someone else to be the Great Royal Wife at that time — his eldest daughter Meretaten.
Nefertiti may have died, or some argue that she was elevated to co-regent, like a king-in-training. Another theory is that Akhenaten’s fourth daughter, Neferneferuaten Jr., became co-regent. She’s junior, because another one of Nefertiti’s names was also Neferneferuaten, and since the co-regent was named Neferneferuaten … well, hence the confusion as to exactly who was co-regent. After the death of Akhenaten around 1336 BC, we then have king Smenkhkara, ruling just a short while before our boy King Tut came onto the scene.
Another parallel that O’Grady draws is between herself and Neferitit’s apparent younger sister Mutnedjmet. Just as the younger O’Grady was left behind after her sister’s sudden and tragic passing, Mutnedjmet would also have been abandoned after Nefertiti’s sudden disappearance, according to the theories at the time. Just to bring everything else up to current theory, contrary to popular speculation, there’s no evidence that Nefertiti’s sister is the same Mutnedjmet, who was queen to the later king Horemheb. Also the more widely accepted translation today of Nefertiti’s sister’s name is Mutbenret, which is spelled exactly the same in hieroglyphs. But those are both minor technicalities that have little to no impact on O’Grady’s overall work. The importance of Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline and Miscegenated Family Album is that the immediate physical resemblance in the framing of O’Grady’s family members with figures of ancient history is indicative of deeper sentiment and associations. The past becomes an idealized and humanized film through which our own lives are filtered and compared.
So much comparison between these ancient and modern figures compels me to draw one comparison from my own imagination …
Keep on moon walking, Michael, in the great beyond.
You’ll find a whole lotta great links about Lorraine O’Grady and her work at ancientartpodcast.org. Click on Additional Resources and scroll down to the post prominently titled “Lorraine O’Grady.” If you’re interested in seeing Miscegenated Family Album in person, Lorraine O’Grady has posted on her own blog that it should be installed in the Art Institute of Chicago’s new Modern Wing some time in the near future, and I have an unconfirmed corroborating report from unnamed sources. But if you want to find out for yourself, over at ancientartpodcast.org among the additional resources on O’Grady, you’ll find a link to the Art Institute’s online collection record for Miscegenated Family Album, which tells you whether or not the work is on display.
You can follow me on Twitter at lucaslivingston. If you have any questions you’d like me to discuss in future episodes, be sure to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also give feedback on the website and fill out a fun little survey. You can comment on each episode on the website or on YouTube. And if you like the podcast, why not share the love with some iTunes comments? It helps get the podcast noticed. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.
©2009 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org
1. Lorraine O’Grady, Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline: “Stirring sand, closeup.” 1980.
2. … “Told to swing an incense censer, she stirs sand instead.”
3. … “Instead of a ‘beef heart’ described on the soundtape, she lifts a heart of sand.”
4. … “I open your mouth for you.”
5. … “You are protected, and you shall not die.”
6. … “The voice on the tape says: ‘Mount and straddle tubs of sand, which are now touching…face audience.’”
7. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sisters I (L: Nefertiti, R: Devonia), 1980/94.
8. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sisters II (L: Nefertiti’s daughter Merytaten, R: Devonia’s daughter Candace), 1980/94.
9. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sisters III (L: Nefertiti’s daughter Meketaten, R: Devonia’s daughter Kimberley), 1980/94.
10. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sisters IV (L: Devonia’s sister Lorraine, R: Nefertiti’s sister Mutnedjmet), 1980/94.
11. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Ceremonial Occasions I (L: Devonia as Matron of Honor, R: Nefertiti performing a lustration), 1980/94.
12. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Ceremonial Occasions II (L: Devonia attending a wedding, R: Nefertiti performing an Aten ritual), 1980/94.
13. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: A Mother’s Kiss (T: Candace and Devonia, B: Nefertiti and daughter), 1980/94.
14. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Motherhood (L: Nefertiti, R: Devonia reading to Candace and Edward, Jr.), 1980/94.
15. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Young Princesses (L: Nefertiti’s daughter Ankhesenpaaten, R: Devonia’s daughter Candace), 1980/94.
16. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Worldly Princesses (L: Nefertiti’s daughter Merytaten, R: Devonia’s daughter Kimberley), 1980/94.
17. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Crowned Heads (L: Nefertiti’s husband Akhenaten, R: Devonia’s husband Edward), 1980/94.
18. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Young Queens (L: Nefertiti, aged 24, R: Devonia, aged 24), 1980/94.
19. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Progress of Queens (L: Nefertiti, aged 35, R: Devonia, aged 36), 1980/94.
20. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Cross-Generational (L: Nefertiti, the last image, R: Devonia’s daughter Kimberley), 1980/94.
21. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Hero Worship (L: Devonia and 14 and Lorraine at 3, R: Devonia at 24 and Lorraine at 13), 1980/94.
22. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sibling Rivalry (L: Nefertiti, R: Nefertiti’s sister Mutnedjmet), 1980/94.
23. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sisters I (L: Nefertiti, R: Devonia), 1980/94, one of set of sixteen silver dye bleach print diptychs, framed; edition five of eight, 67.3 x 95.3 cm (26 1/2 x 37 1/2 in.) each, Art Institute of Chicago: Through prior bequest of Marguerita S. Ritman, 2008.81.1-16.
1. Stela of the Royal Family, probably from Amarna, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, 1351-1336 BC, Limestone, Egyptian Museum, Berlin, 14145.
2. Chair of Tutankhamun and Queen Ankhesenamun.
3. Golden Mask of Tutankhamun, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
4. Head of Queen Tiy, Egyptian Museum, Berlin.
5. Colossal Head of Akhenaten, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
6. Right-hand sided tomb statue of Tutankhamun, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
7. Statue of an unknown Amarna-era princess. New Kingdom, Amarna period, 18th dynasty, ca. 1345 BC Egyptian Museum (21223), Berlin, photo by Keith Schengili-Roberts, 15 Dec 2006.
8. Statue of King Horemheb with the god Amun, Egyptian Museum of Turin, photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbera, 14 Sep 2008.
9. Small head of a princess, probably Amarna period, Louvre Museum (E14715).
10. Statue head of a woman, limestone, New Kingdom, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (31713), photo by Lucas Livingston.
Hello again and welcome back to the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast. Please bear with me for a minute as I make a brief technical note. If Episode 11: The Parthenon Frieze, Part 2 was the last episode that automatically downloaded to your computer if you’re subscribing to the podcast, then that’s probably because I recently updated my podcast publishing software. Apple kindly decided to rename my podcast’s RSS feed, the link that you use to subscribe, and there’s not much I could do about it. But I did tell iTunes to redirect to the new feed, so for many listeners this may not be a problem any more. If you’re still having trouble with the subscription, though, just try unsubscribing and visit scarabsolutions.com, where you can resubscribe with the correct new link. And if all else fails, you can email me at email@example.com and I’ll see what help I can offer. If none of this is making any sense, then it may not apply, so don’t worry and just keep listening as always.
So, with that, in the past three episodes we studied the Parthenon Frieze on the Athenian Acropolis in comparison to the Apadana reliefs at the Persian capital Persepolis. While we probably exhausted our interest in that topic for a while, I do want to take just another few minutes to look at the Parthenon Frieze in comparison to another great work of art far removed from Ancient Greece, “The Chicago Panels” by contemporary American artist Ellsworth Kelly. But before we jump in, I need to correct a little mistake I made in Episode 12. When I was talking about the replica of the Parthenon Frieze on the north side of the Art Institute, I mentioned that it’s a replica of sections from the east frieze of the Parthenon. Slip of the tongue, there. I meant to say that these figures come from the west frieze of the Parthenon, the formal beginning to the frieze. The east frieze of the Parthenon, in contrast, shows the conclusion, with the Olympian gods and presentation of the new peplos (that is, if you buy that interpretation).
Described as a master of color and form, Ellsworth Kelly is well known for his quintessential style of large, carefully controlled areas of color exuding a sense of purity in their simplicity. The Art Institute has a rich collection of works by Kelly, including paintings, collages, drawings, prints, and sculpture from throughout his prolific career. “The Chicago Panels” from 1989 to 1999 consist of six painted, monochromatic, curved aluminum panels hung on the walls around the upper level above the sculpture court of the American Art galleries at the Art Institute. Emphasizing pure color and shape, Ellsworth Kelly’s works associate with the architectural setting around them. In the American Art sculpture court, the Chicago Panels interact not only with the walls, on which the panels hang, but also the magnificent floor-to-ceiling Classical Greek style Doric columns along the balcony railing.
The Chicago Panels were commissioned specifically for this interior space. There’s no clear indication why they’re called the Chicago Panels, but the shape and color of Kelly’s artwork are often inspired by familiar objects and phenomena. When you stare at the panels long enough, you might just start to see the familiar shapes of Chicago’s skyline. At least, that’s some people’s take on it. Or maybe the many colors reflect a panel of Chicago’s ethnic diversity. By nature of its formless quality, Kelly’s artwork is very personal, engaging with the viewer and inviting you to participate in interpretation, and that’s what this episode is all about — a personal experience. We recently explored the similarities between the Parthenon Frieze and the Apadana in terms of the way one might have experienced the two works and their sites. Now I’d like to draw a comparison of personal experience between the Parthenon Frieze and the Chicago Panels. When I walk upstairs and around the gallery looking at the panels, glimpsing their partial forms sliced by the intermittent columns, I feel I come close to the same experience a late 5th century BC Athenian may have had when processing alongside the Parthenon glancing up at the frieze. I mentioned last time that the Parthenon Frieze is a sort of Athenian self-portrait mirroring the contemporary act of sacred procession at its feet. Sure, there’s no sacred procession going on in the Art Institute galleries, not regularly, at least, but if you see yourself or your city in the Chicago Panels, you might encounter a similar sense of personal patriotism.
Also, as you walk through the gallery, the Classically-inspired Doric columns break up your experience, providing only obstructed glances of the panels as you look out across the open-air space of the sculpture court below. This almost strobe-like effect of brief, fractured glimpses provides a sense of animation to the panels. Interestingly, there’s no one point in the gallery where you can stand and see all six panels in their entirety. Give it a shot. I’ve tried. There’s always at least just a little sliver of a panel hiding behind one of the columns. Just the same way on the Parthenon, the Doric colonnade breaks up your experience of the frieze, offering you only glimpses of the entire scene. As you process alongside the frieze looking up at the interrupted cavalcade of horses and parade of tribute, the fractured glimpses produce a similar sense of animation, spurring the galloping horses to life. And imagine how much more lively and life-like the frieze must have appeared in its original, vibrant, realistic coloration. Yes, as with most Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, the Parthenon Frieze and the rest of the Parthenon were highly painted.
Ellsworth Kelly may in no way have been inspired by the Parthenon Frieze when creating the Chicago Panels, and I’m not making any claim to that effect. This is just an opportunity for me to explore my own personal resonance with two moving works of art — conscious and subconscious experiences paralleled by ancient and contemporary human achievement.
I hope you didn’t mind our short departure from ancient art. Maybe you even enjoyed it. If you’d like to do more digging, I’ve added a few references on Ellsworth Kelly to the bibliography in the Additional Resources section of SCARABsolutions.com. Thanks for listening and see you next time on the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast.
©2008 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org