Diedrick Brackens' new exhibition “Rhyming Positions” at @jackshainman is one of the best shows to see in New York this summer. @deedsweaves has been on my radar for a while, but this was my first chance to actually see his work up close, and I was totally blown away. For starters, I love artists who push the boundaries of a medium, experimenting with new methods or revisiting and reinventing old ones. Brackens does both, taking the history-rich medium of tapestry and reinvigorating it with contemporary social issues. There’s so much meaning beneath the woven surface of these works, but let’s also take a second to admire the surface itself, because it’s just so beautiful.
For a long time, tapestry was the most expensive and distinguished artistic medium. For example, Raphael’s tapestries for the Sistine Chapel costed FIVE TIMES more than Michelangelo’s iconic ceiling frescos. So, for Brackens to depict black bodies in tapestries is a way to dignify the black figure, while also evoking the nineteenth-century practice of quilting that was popular in the African American community. Brackens’ choice of cotton as a material – as well as the arduous process of dying and weaving it – is a way of reclaiming and repurposing a material deeply rooted in the legacy of American slavery. The subject matter Brackens weaves into his tapestries is often pulled from Southern Folklore, illustrating the history of black America that is often forgotten or excluded from the written history of the United States.
Brackens not only addresses issues of race in his work, but also the sexual politics that define his life as a queer man. The soft texture of his tapestries gives the work a sensual quality, while the presence of flowers and animals evokes an idyllic outdoors setting – “a nod to the history of queer and femme folks who have gathered in nature, creating safe spaces for ritual and communion.” This focus of the outdoors as an important domain for the queer community is a key theme in Brackens’ new show, tying – or should I say weaving – together his works along a common thread.