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What A Tale He Weaves

Published: June 20, 2016

Diedrick Brackens
PHOTO COURTESY OF DIEDRICK BRACKENS
Diedrick Brackens

When Diedrick Brackens sought a way to portray the trauma of black and queer bodies, he found it in weaving.

Brackens, who joined the School of Art in the fall of 2015, explained that weaving is an art form that stays close to the body.

“Textiles are about healing and everyday life,” he said. “Remember that bandages originally were woven. These are the coverings that keep us warm and keeps things out. It preserves the body.”

He believes that’s what makes weaving such a useful platform from which to portray the trauma of black and queer bodies.

“There is a resonance and even a psychic energy to textiles,” he explained. “That’s the reason we have favorite shirts and why we keep things even when they have holes and are falling apart. I’m really interested in using textiles to invoke the body. I try to accentuate the imperfections that we love about things. When I keep in a knot, it’s because I want it to look as if the fabric has unraveled or been mended.”

Brackens tries to represent the body through abstraction with weavings that tend to be long, tall and narrow, ranging in size from three to six feet. His work deals with ideas of healing in the way they signify wounds or openings.

“There might be hand prints on the pieces,” he said. “There is a lot of stitching to bring things together. These ‘stitches’ function as sutures or patches. They carry associations of both skin and cloth. When I suggest a suture, I am trying to emphasize the imperfections that exist in cloth and bodies.”

He senses artists are re-investigating working with their hands.

“We are increasingly in a digital age and folks are starting to realize that they have the desire to do things with their hands,” he said. “In a world increasingly driven by the media, there is something new about the old. Students are amazed to be working with a piece of cloth and a bucket of dye. I think there’s a lot of magic to that in a way you don’t get from going out and buying something. Watching the process produces a pleasure you can’t get any other way.”

Brackens pointed to his weaving “Untitled” recently acquired and exhibited by the Oakland Museum of California. “It was the largest work I ever wove,” he recalled. “I worked hard to include visual cues of Americana including stripes and a checkered hound’s tooth pattern. I used colors from the built environment such as neon orange that also functions as a bed covering. It is a modern vision of America fractured by an old world vision of Americana.”

His artist’s tool is the loom. He began working with one in 2008 when he was an undergraduate at the University of North Texas. He believes that, in a certain way, it is a tool of meditation that fits his personality in the way weaving depends on regimented organization.

“There’s a slowness to the making that I really like,” he said. “What can looms do besides creating square, regimented things? Weaving is about pushing an antiquated piece of machinery to another level.”

His work has been featured at the Berkeley Art Museum and the third Ghetto Biennial in Port Au Prince, Haiti, in 2013, where he wove nets from discarded T-shirts. He earned his BFA in fiber from the University of North Texas and his MFA in textiles from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

“I spend a lot of time using colors we see every day in the urban world, the world of construction and development,” he said. “Sometimes I emphasize what looks like a stain to accentuate an imperfection. Sometimes we associate stains with mess and dirt. But it also can represent the inability to keep oneself clean or stand in for societal ideals relating to impurity. I try to renegotiate our understanding of what is pure. Some of these stains actually take on a floral motif. I’ve spray-painted flowers onto cloth as it was woven. I’ve also used bleach as a means a removal of pigment. Bleach can be as much about excising something as it is about cleansing something, a violent removal.”

Brackens continues his commitment to portraying the trauma of black and queer bodies but he finds his work is “growing toward joy.”

“I want to find things to celebrate as opposed to a continual mourning,” he said. “As awful as the world is, I want to pump in some images about what the world could be alongside what it is. I am beginning to consider the landscape as a source of inspiration. The land, in relation to a black or brown body, usually signifies toil or ideas about pain. I feel there are too few images of black and queer folk enjoying the natural world. I want to see what’s in that territory.”