Four Happy Girls in Harlem: How Lorraine O’Grady Showed Art Is For Everyone | art and design

RIn September 1983, in response to a “non-artistic acquaintance’s” comment that “avant-garde art has nothing to do with black people” – and to prove it – artist Lorraine O’Grady took her camera to the “largest black room she could imagine” – the African American Day Parade in Harlem, New York to document the crowds for her series Art Is… instructed 15 actors and dancers, all dressed in white, to reach out to the excited onlookers and get them in to pose empty golden picture frames.

Using her camera, under the glittering sunlight, O’Grady captured celebratory images of people of all ages and myriad personalities, from energetic locals to those taking it all in in a moment of reflection. But it’s the group of young girls in Girlfriends Times Two, smiling from ear to ear, their hands clutching the gold rims – confidently showing that they belong in those frames – that’s what I find most joyful.

In recent weeks we have seen Sarina Wiegman’s unstoppable England team wow the nation at the Women’s Euros. There was Georgia Stanway’s long-range goal in the 95th minute that secured their place in the semis, Alessia Russo’s back heel to secure the Lionesses’ place in the finals, and last night Ella Toone’s epic lob that gave them the initial lead in the semis final, and then Chloe Kelly’s goal that gave England a triumphant and well-deserved victory. All of this was documented by the team’s official photographer, Lynne Cameron, who captured the excitement of their success, from the aftermath of Fran Kirby’s momentous goal to Rachel Daly storming the pitch in celebration.

Lorraine O’Grady’s Troupe With Mile Bourgeoise Noire), recorded at the African American Day Parade in Harlem in 1983. Photo: Courtesy of Alexander Gray Associates, New York/2022 Lorraine O’Grady / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Just as the lionesses have shattered all prejudices that football belongs in a man’s world – as shockingly revealed in an anonymous note tweeted by Emma Barnett, host of the Woman’s Hour – O’Grady also broke away from traditional ideas about what art is and where it should be located. Art Is… rightly ignored society’s rigid views of a gender-imbalanced art world and returned art to its simplest and most effective terms. . It’s up to us, the spectators, participants – or in the case of the England team, the fans – to rewrite the rules and get everyone involved.

This month, the Lionesses have achieved that, not only through their incredible success on the pitch, but also through the impact they have on those who watch them play. A staggering 9.3 million people watched England defeat Sweden; Records were broken as Sunday’s game became the highest-attended UEFA tournament
in men’s or women’s football; TV viewership has increased by 58% compared to previous Women’s Euros. Former England men’s star Ian Wright proclaimed after the team’s progress to the final: “If girls can’t play football like boys at school afterwards, what do we do then?”

Art Is … brought art from the museum into the public space. Expanding the fabric of photography and performance, it showed the “non-artistic acquaintances” – and perhaps the establishment they came from – the relevance of art and its power to drive inclusion. It showed that art can be a performance, a question, a call to action, in a museum or on the street. For O’Grady, art is “a joyful display at Harlem’s African American Day Parade.”

Just as O’Grady tells the bright young girls that they too should appear on museum walls, the Lionesses are encouraging the next generation of footballers. This is evocatively outlined by striker Nikita Parris, who has written: “So I know how young women, young black women, feel growing up in the world today because there isn’t a lot of representation at the highest level where they can see one Seeing or feeling away Sense of ‘I can make this dream come true.’”

In the way Art Is… pioneered the field of art, the lionesses not only made history by raising their trophy last night, but changed minds and hearts. Now everyone can feel worthy of being part of the game.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.