Rin response to a comment by a “non-artist acquaintance” that “avant-garde art had nothing to do with black people”—and to prove that it did—in September 1983, artist Lorraine O’Grady took her camera to “the most the big black space she could think of” – the African-American Day Parade in Harlem, New York, to document the crowds for her series “Art is…” Hiring a gold-cloth-covered float complete with a giant gilded frame, O’Grady instructed 15 actors and dancers, all dressed in white, to reach out to excited spectators and have them pose in empty gold photo frames.
With his camera, under the brilliant sunlight, O’Grady captures festive images of people of all ages and myriad personalities, ranging from energetic locals to reflective people taking it all in. But it’s the group of young girls in Girlfriends Times Two, grinning from ear to ear with their hands clutching the gold rims – confidently indicating they belong in those frames – that I find most joyous.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched Sarina Wigman’s unstoppable England side thrill the nation at the Women’s European Championship. There was Georgia Stanway’s 95th-minute long-range goal to secure their place in the semi-finals, Alessia Russo’s strike to secure the Lionesses’ place in the final and last night’s epic lob by Ella Toon to give them an early lead in the final , and then Chloe Kelly’s goal, securing England’s triumphant and well-deserved win. It was all documented by the team’s official photographer, Lynn Cameron, who captured the euphoria of their success, from the aftermath of Fran Kirby’s crucial goal to Rachel Daly storming onto the pitch in celebration.
Just as the Lionesses have shattered any preconceived notions that football is a man’s world – as an anonymous note shockingly reveals tweeted by Woman’s Hour host Emma Barnett – O’Grady also broke free from traditional notions of what art is and where it should be situated. Rightly ignoring society’s rigid views on the gender-imbalanced art world and stripping art back to its simplest and most effective terms, Art Is … showed that anyone can be worthy of belonging “inside the frame” – to be an object of “art”. It is up to us, the spectators, the participants – or in the case of the England team, the fans – to rewrite the rules and include everyone.
This month, the Lionesses achieved that not only through their incredible success on the field, but also through the impact on those who watch them play. An astonishing 9.3 million people watched England thrash Sweden; records were broken as Sunday’s match became the most attended for a UEFA tournament
in men’s or women’s football; Television viewing figures have increased by 58% compared to previous Women’s Euros. Former England men’s star Ian Wright declared after the team reached the final: “If girls are then not allowed to play football like boys at school, then what are we doing?”
Art is … brought art out of the museum and into the public space. It expanded the fabric of photography and performance, and showed the “non-artist acquaintances”—and perhaps the establishment from which they came—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, the art is “a joyous performance in the African-American parade in Harlem.”
Just as O’Grady tells shining young girls that they, too, should be included on the walls of museums, the Lionesses are encouraging the next generation of footballers. This was clearly outlined by striker Nikita Paris, who wrote: “I know how young women, young black women, feel growing up in today’s world because there’s not a lot of representation at the highest level where they see a path or feel the sense of ” I can achieve this dream.”
The way Art is… was groundbreaking in the field of art, the Lionesses not only made history by lifting their trophy last night, they changed minds and hearts. Now everyone can feel that they are worthy to be a part of the game.