Diedrick Brackens
6/5/2021 - 9/5/2021
Diedrick Brackens (American, born 1989) is from Mexia, Texas, a small town 85 miles southeast of Dallas. In 1981, three Black teenagers drowned in Lake Mexia while in police custody. Brackens was born eight years after this tragic event; seven years after the police officers involved were acquitted of wrong-doing. The artist grew up hearing stories about what unfolded on that summer night in 1981, the trauma still lingering in Mexia’s collective consciousness. Brackens left Texas to attend graduate school in California, where he first tried his hand at weaving. The process of building an image stitch-by-stitch captivated the artist and the loom soon became his preferred tool. Drawing on global textile and weaving traditions, Brackens locates himself in a long lineage of artists working with thread, while also centering his personal experiences of being Black and queer in America.

Working primarily with cotton, Brackens pays homage to those who came before him, from the victims of chattel slavery to his own grandmother, who picked cotton as a child. Violence against Black bodies is a strong undercurrent in Brackens’ oeuvre, yet he avoids reenacting specific acts of brutality, instead deploying coded symbols, such as animals. An early tapestry honors the drowned teens from Mexia, imagining not the horrific circumstance of their deaths, but rather their spirits living on as fish. In the diptych on this intimate earth, I fear 10,000 states, 2020, dogs and humans peaceably coexist in one panel, while in the other, a pack of canines attacks a silhouetted figure. Dogs are Brackens’ stand-ins for government-sponsored violence. Here, he places them in the context of the hunt, a historical tapestry trope that becomes considerably more fraught when the target is human and the perpetrator is meant to serve and protect, not devour. Still, Brackens does not abandon hope. In his most recent weaving, a figure rises through blue flames like a phoenix, fist in the air, refusing to accept that destruction must necessarily end in defeat.

A Riley Contemporary Artists Project (CAP) Gallery exhibition, supported by Douglas County, Catherine & Terry Ferguson, and Sara Foxley.

What's Pictured: Diedrick Brackens (American, born 1989), through the eye unburnt and blameless, 2020, woven cotton and acrylic yarn, 98 x 96 in., © Diedrick Brackens. Courtesy the artist and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles/Seoul