In a world as hectic as the present day, it is often challenging to obtain perspective and nuance when discussing society’s greatest ills. Moreover, in times where words cannot satisfy our understanding of these issues, art’s importance amplifies and sheds light on our concerns. Continuing this sense of artistic responsibility, Texan artist and 2018 Joyce Alexander Wein artist prize recipient Diedrick Brackens aims to explore and analyze the social cleavages of race and LGBT+ individuals. Using a unique form of visual narration, Bracken’s usage of textiles and weaving form seemingly simple yet enticing pieces that compel the viewer to contemplate the story shaped by the artwork facing them. By doing so, Brackens creates a dimension where individuals of various backgrounds can begin to understand what it’s like to be othered in society.
From his studio in Los Angeles, Brackens reminiscents what it was like growing up as being both black and queer, Bracken’s experience and intuition as an artist is largely shaped by struggles that he has faced growing up Texas in times where there was even less acceptance towards the queer community and non-whites. He states that “I don’t know what the world is like now for young queer people in the South, but I think that there was so much encoding in navigating space and trying to communicate with other queer folks and being a person already marginalized through race.” While it was not the most natural upbringing, Brackens has been able to transform those haunting experiences into art that is both beautiful yet thought-provoking. In that regard, the approach from which he intends to tell stories may seem simple, but they facilitate introspection for the spectator. In his art piece “Nuclear Lovers,” Brackens wove a six by six cotton square out of cotton and acrylic yarn. The square is slightly uneven in lengths and depicts two magenta-colored figures lying on the floor together, with checkered patterns filling the backdrop. There is a fusion of West African art and European textile making in the presentation of the colors and formatting, yet is the usage of cotton that binds the art into greater personal depths.
Photo credit: Eventbrite.ie
While an intriguing creation on its own, the plot that “Nuclear Lovers” creates calls back to Bracken’s personal experiences and speaks to the more significant issue at hand. Inspired by Assotto Saint’s poem regarding the AIDs crisis during its height. Nevertheless, Bracken’s approach to his pieces was always to be able to communicate these issues absent from people and appear relatable to the, for he explains “I want to be able to take these stories that are maybe familiar to a lot of folks and make them queer on some level, but also show how they might already have the capacity to be read in that way.” In translation, these issues both black and queer experience together, Brackens provides a glimpse to outsiders into the internal conflict of black-queer men. To put into greater context, if one can imagine being fearful about suddenly dying from illness, one can understand how black men might have felt during the AIDS crisis. More importantly, imagine having not only that fear from illness, which is temporary but also every day for being born a certain way. In effect, it is an essential reminder that people should learn to be empathetic towards each other and learn to comprehend that everyone struggles differently.
As with other work like “sleep doesn’t come easy,” a denim-like curtain drop or “How to Return,” which features figures in a bathtub, Diedrick Brackens has managed to put his work in a necessary and useful role for creative expression and social responsibility. Despite being in a white-dominated space, Brackens puts obstacles into perspective in a time where it is essential to hear the voices of those being marginalized. By doing so, art proves once again to make progress where words simply cannot.