By Grayson Barnes
WICHITA - We bring to art what we are. The artist Diedrick Brackens brought his queer, black body and put it on exhibit at the Ulrich Museum at Wichita State University. Instead of his actual body, though, he’s used textiles in a slow reckoning, to translate his experience as well as that of others.
Brackens’ work is designed to confront the “othering” experienced by queer and racialized bodies in public spaces. Our bodies are subject to scrutiny which is sometimes intrusive and cruel. It might even be violent. Combining textiles with mirrors also challenges the act of looking when one can see oneself reflected in the act.
The beauty of the works is their subversiveness. They creep up on you. They’re not politically-charged photos or paintings full of agenda-laden symbolism. They’re soft and beckoning, just like grandma’s quilt.
The titles are gentle, too, rendered in e.e. cummings-esque lowercase letters. You can’t help but get closer. You notice wrinkles, an unmoored string, and there, behind a straining section of fabric, is a mirror. As you approach and peer beneath the weave, you are confronted by yourself. You’ve been caught examining something too closely.
Brackens’ work is not pristine. It’s not meant to be. As an Assistant Professor of Fiber at California State University in Long Beach, he understands the “formal” presentation of “traditional” textile works that are stick-straight with neat edges and trimmed of stray threads. He chooses to challenge those ideals. The stretched parts, loose threads, and other process marks make them look like they’ve EXPERIENCED something. Like skin.
invisible life (2017) is an expanse of luscious bright green bordering on teal big enough to wrap up in. The surface is interspersed with soft, tufted knots. Hanging midway down on the left is an arm-length glove. Its partner dangles from the bottom, sac-like.
With these additions, the work becomes both clinical and a reference to drag.
A paired set of weavings titled always look away (2017) and never look away (2017) reference the song Dixie, which glorifies the American South while ignoring the history of slavery and racial injustice in the region.
In these works, Brackens uses the symbolism of the Confederate flag, such as stars and stripes, but reframes them by altering the composition and changing the colors. Pink, off-white, and cyan replace the red, white, and blue.
In always look away, the majority of stars float along the left side. Two dangling strings under the biggest cluster, make it appear as if one of the stars was jerked loose: an aggression rendered in textile.
never look away has stars arranged in a arrow, which points at sections of triangular fabric reminiscent of the “Flying Geese” pattern used as code on quilts to guide escaping slaves during the days of the Underground Railroad.
What got me most was the color of these pieces. They’re contemporary – like the colors of ink in a printer, or, as a transman, I saw them as the colors of the transgender flag. I thought about how worried I am about MY skin. After all, you bring to art what you are. l