Diedrick Brackens: heaven is a muddy riverbed
January 30, 2022 — May 8, 2022
Known primarily for his narrative, figurative, tapestry weavings that reference real life events and allegories, this intimate survey exhibition examines the use of the catfish motif in Diedrick Brackens’ weavings and poetry. Since 2017, the catfish has been an enduring, multi-dimensional symbol in Brackens’ creative practice. It first emerged as a memorial to three young Black men who drowned while in police custody outside Brackens’ hometown of Mexia, Texas, in 1981. With time, the catfish’s presence has become more fluid – it may be protector or prey, a sacred presence, a guide. In Brackens’ own words, “The catfish has become a way for me to think about sustenance, my ancestors, and myself; it functions as a spirit linking the living and dead.”
The catfish is an integral part of Southern American culture, appearing in recipes, songs, and folklore. The catfish has often been maligned as a bottom feeder, lazy, and easy to catch – used as a signifier for racial stereotypes of Black Southerners and the poor. Through seeing this often reviled creature fully, caring for it, exalting its strengths, Brackens offers alternative narratives encouraging viewers to see the catfish, and other creatures that society easily dismisses, as complex, complete beings. Brackens’ weavings and poetry are churning waterways for the catfish and all it represents, reclaiming the catfish for himself and other Black Americans. Lines of thread and text are smaller tributaries which converge to form the larger whole. Each fiber and word are infused with the personal and collective memories that propel Brackens. By bringing his weavings and poetry together, the exhibition navigates the full breadth of this important emblem at the heart of Brackens’ prolific creative practice.
Like the catfish, Brackens finds his way through dark waters, weaving and writing to draw the sustenance needed to create works that offer healing, growth, and community. Through seeing the catfish fully, caring for it, Brackens offers alternative narratives encouraging viewers to envision the catfish, and the people whose histories it represents, as complex, complete beings. When one’s imagination is opened to those possibilities, heaven can exist anywhere, even in the depths of a muddy riverbed.
This exhibition is made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Antonia and Vladimer Kulaev Cultural Heritage Foundation, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, and the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs. Exhibition and publication research was supported by a Craft Research Fund grant from the Center for Craft.
Image: Diedrick Brackens, mud bright sight, 2021. Cotton and acrylic yarn. 43 x 40 1/2 inches. © Diedrick Brackens. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles and Seoul.
Find the exhibition catalogue here.
Watch Diedrick Brackens’ artist talk, Scripture, Folklore, and Hearsay, with T.K. Smith here.