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We Need all Kinds of Feminism

By Whitney V. Hunter, Cohort 13

“Olympia Reading” by Whitney V. Hunter

“Olympia Reading” by Whitney V. Hunter

Recently at The Hole, a contemporary art gallery in New York City, I attended a reading of Lorraine O’Grady’s text “Olympia’s Maid:  Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity.” Marking both the 20th anniversary of its publication and her 80th birthday, Ms. O’Grady invited 24 artists to present the canonical article. The readers were from a broad range of artistic backgrounds: performance, visual, literary, and others. With an introduction by Sur Rodney (Sur), her studio manager and a well-respected artist in his own right, the event celebrated an enduring spirit while acknowledging contemplation. What followed was an authentic and penetrating gift of literary prowess from the pioneering conceptual artist. Ms. O’Grady’s essay, being the “first ever article of cultural criticism on the black female body” exposed me to an insight of her practice and interest as an artist dedicated to realizing and acknowledging the work of black artists, especially women, in a field that is “still primarily a white male world.”

One point highlighted by O’Grady that truly piqued my interest and has consistent relevance in contemporary art (of all mediums) was, “there is no inherent contradiction between beauty and politics since elegance is an enduring quality of black style that remains politically malleable.”  This statement intrigues me and I want completelyto subscribe. However, it feeds my own curiosity into the possible conflicts embedded within the notion of “elegance” as an “enduring quality of black style” even with its malleability. A question that I might ask is simply “why elegance?”

Rich with questions of diaspora, hybridity, and black female subjectivity, I am grateful for Lorraine’s work and the opportunity to have attended this performance. At its core stands the belief that, as Lorraine stated, “we need all kinds of feminism.” Or to quote the American author, feminist, and social activist bell hooks, “feminism is for everybody.”