Nefertiti and an American Portrait


Nefertiti and an American Portrait
Gallery 236 from April to July 2010
Lorraine O’Grady
American, born 1934


Lorraine O’Grady
Miscegenated Family Album, 1980/94
2 cibachrome diptychs
Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates, New York

Lorraine O’Grady’s highly personal Miscegenated Family Album is both a memorial and an art-history essay. Each diptych, or pair of images, includes a photograph of O’Grady’s deceased sister, Devonia Evangeline, and a photographic representation of an artwork depicting the ancient Egyptian queen, Nefertiti. By pairing them, O’Grady draws a parallel between her own troubled relationship with Devonia and the sibling rivalry between Queen Neferiti and her sister, Mutnojme.

The title of O’Grady’s work adds layers of meaning to the pairs. The word “miscegenated,” coined in 1863 during the American Civil War to describe people of mixed ethnicity, connects O’Grady’s photographs to highly politicized scholarly and popular debates about the African identity of the ancient Egyptians, their place in African and European histories, and racism. In these galleries, O’Grady’s diptychs converse with the ancient Egyptian portraits of the young woman named Teshat, represented on the mummy case nearby, and King Amenhotep III. Meanwhile, the Roman funerary portraits to the right illustrate how the Romans incorporated Egyptian practices when they conquered Egypt late in the first century. On yet another level, the photographs encourage a discussion of the art historical
origin of idealized beauty and realistic depictions in ancient Egyptian art.

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