Strolling via Diedrick Brackens’s solo exhibition, heaven is a muddy riverbed, the phrase “ain’t I a man?” kept repeating in my head. It is an adaptation of the popular “Ain’t I a girl?” speech Sojourner Truth of the matter built at the 1851 Women’s Legal rights Convention. Truth’s terms had been in defiance of the paltry perception of Black females in the United States, the deliberate denial of her femininity and overall personhood. In Brackens’s exhibition, the textile artist deftly combines his weavings with his primary poetry to build an atmosphere of reverence for the folks, animals, and concepts that modern society demeans. Like Truth’s words, Brackens’s will work obstacle site visitors to the exhibition: When you encounter me, do you see all that I am? All that I do? All that I consist of?
The exhibition focuses on the artist’s use of catfish as a motif. It commences with his reimagining of three Black adult men — Steven Booker, Carl Baker, and Anthony Freeman — who drowned in 1981 when a law enforcement boat capsized in Texas. Arrested in the course of a Juneteenth celebration, they were being in handcuffs when it went down and subsequently satisfied their fatalities in Lake Mexia — everlasting relaxation in a muddied lakebed. Brackens grew up in close proximity to that lake and normally signifies these adult men as catfish, an cheap bottom-feeder fish that is a staple in Southern cooking but or else has quite a few damaging connotations. But in Brackens’s textiles, these fish become regal, peaceful, spiritual, effective, embodying the marvel that is any residing becoming on Earth. He asks us to see all that the fish are, all that they do, all that they can comprise.
All nine weavings in the exhibition incorporate at the very least just one fish, creating the motif strong. Upon getting into the gallery viewers are greeted with the exhibition’s eponymous get the job done, whose three fish and overall body of water are an ode to the drowned guys. The purple and blue hues that compose the water are woven in these kinds of a way that it seems pixelated, an optical illusion that transforms yarn into ripples. One particular fish is shown mid-leap in a swish arc its two counterparts under repeat the similar form. The piece sets the exhibition’s tone. Additional than a mere portrayal, it is a meditation on catfish. They appear to swim by way of the gallery, swirl close to the viewer. Sometimes they interact with silhouetted guys, circling their ft or getting raised in the air in exaltation. Each and every do the job could be a concurrent scene from a one minute on a river, or unique details in the lives of the a few fish as they navigate their possess turbid waters.
Then there are the text. 4 poems by Brackens supply surreal anchors in the course of the display. Just about every adds dimension and depth to the principles of lifetime and sacrifice, the stress of the catfish as they carry the souls of the lost. “They won’t kick out into unsure waters/ with the factors we saved for ourselves,” reads component of “fathers guard the nursery.” Around the exit is a small shelf of publications that inspired Brackens, their web pages highlighted. The use of these poems and placement of the texts reinforces Brackens’s weaving techniques, tying the exhibition jointly — yarns and threads as apparent in the constitution of his do the job as in the conceptual presentation of it.
Standing in the center of the gallery, taking it all in, I assume about the exhibition title. What does it necessarily mean for heaven to be a muddy riverbed? Murky but flowing. Earthen, not celestial. Wholesome and abundant but not vivid or distinct. Mysterious and cloudy from the stir trailing activity. Pushed much more by perception in a existence beneath the surface than any noticeable evidence. I’m encircled by woven parts, building one more variety of web. I’m in the center, caught together with the catfish swimming in each individual sightline. My have shadow once in a while blends with the silhouettes in the is effective. I recall the defiance in Truth’s phrase and I surprise, properly, ain’t this a heaven?
heaven is a muddy riverbed is on view at Craft Modern (5814 Wilshire Boulevard, Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles) as a result of May perhaps 8. The exhibition was arranged by Holly Jerger.