With every stitch or every tear in the fabric, Diedrick Brackens is creating or, more aptly, unraveling a much larger cloth. In a new exhibition at Conduit Gallery, hearts, hands, and other members, of his latest textile works, Brackens continues his exploration of issues of race, tradition and gender, but with a new, looser hand.
A native of the Dallas area, and a graduate of University of North Texas, Brackens roots his weaving practice in cultural history through material. In many of his works, he blends traditional West African kente cloth with European tapestry and American quilting techniques. But he infuses his pieces with contemporary issues, using stretches of red yarn to create “blood marks,” and confronting the viewer off the wall with red and purple yarn twisted around a wooden structure resembling both a loom and a police barricade. In a few of the works on display, he's employed elements of the fabled Underground Railroad Quilt Code, a series of symbols that may or may not have been used to signal safety or danger for a slave on the road to freedom.
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“I'm really interested in the idea of navigation and directions and the search and using it to talk about our contemporary moment and how folks navigate this dangerous world,” says Brackens. He's specifically employed the spiraling log cabin, but he's also created a language of his own, showing the viewer what to pay attention to with miniature, orange plastic hands. Usually, it requires a much more up close look at the surface to see what's emerging from beneath the facade. In one, a small, blood red thread pops out of a rich black cloth.
It's evident that Brackens has a personal investment in each piece. A gay black man, he identifies with the marginalization of the art form, which is constantly relegated to the arts and crafts genre and is widely considered women's work. But for him, there's also a bit of reclamation. He's quick to note that in Africa, weaving was consistently done by men.
“In the West African tradition, it's traditional for the men to do the weaving,” says Brackens. “So people always say, it's OK for you to do it, and I think about this often, how anything can be used as a tool of oppression. Me weaving as a man doesn't elevate the status of weaving, it's a status it should already have.”
See hearts, hands, and other members at Conduit Gallery through October 10. More at conduitgallery.com