There is nothing in the world like being utterly alone—in the shower, in the car, in the woods. Especially when I know for a fact that nobody in the world can see or hear me, I feel free in a way that seems impossible in any other context. Naked, too, but in a liberatory sense. Suddenly, I don’t have to stand up straight, suck in my gut, or lower my voice. I can sing, dance, or slouch without any repercussions. I am myself, and my “self” is for once mine.
It is this unedited, unlimited self that Diedrick Brackens and D’Angelo Lovell Williams theorize, celebrate, and mourn in their exhibition, “The Quick,” on view at Lumber Room through June 18, curated by Ashley Stull Meyers.
Of course, this kind of freedom means different things to different people. As someone of Asian descent, I have experienced race-based marginalization to an extent—but I will never fully grasp what it means to be Black in the United States. Therefore, I think it’s worth acknowledging that the complex and elegant ode to liberation I encountered in this exhibition meant something very different, to me, than it might mean to a Black person looking at the very same art. But, to me, the most important dimension of this exhibition is its capaciousness.
Yes, “The Quick” features the work of two Black artists who are talking about Black experience—but the conversation their work starts is important for everyone to participate in.
Upon entering the large, open space at Lumber Room, I spotted Williams’ photograph, Like the Floating Wet Lotus of the Nile’s Fertile Ground, Burying You Was Never an Option (2022), on the opposite wall and was sucked right into it. LWilliams stands on a small stool, naked except for a semitransparent, fishnet-like gown that covers him, neck to toe, and seems saturated with suds. His eyes are softly shut and shoulders relaxed—a posture that reminds me of that moment after you wash your hands but before you open the door to leave the bathroom. One of those semi-alone moments you wish you could stretch like a blanket over yourself.
With its carefully symmetrical composition, the photo also conjures the symbol of a sarcophagus, such that, when considered alongside the piece’s poetic title, Floating Wet Lotus of the Nile’s Fertile Ground, Burying You Was Never an Option, some of the symbolism begins to come together. While in other contexts, clothing is understood as self expression, even self liberation—for Williams, the performativity of self adornment seems to contain ritualistic multitudes.
Williams’ film, Miss Mississippi (2022), carried this feeling of mourning into a melancholic, meditative performance. The opening scene splices together footage of Williams gliding through a field of grass, holding a silver wig over his head and letting the breeze sift through it, as if it was his own hair. Shortly after, he walks naked across the top of a wooden wall, pausing at times to look off into the distance. The film neither begins nor ends anywhere. Instead, it plays on a loop in a dark room, repeating his wordlessly poetic and aimless meditation while a choir sings “Amazing Grace” in the background.
Throughout the exhibition, Williams’ work captures a profoundly private and vulnerable state of being—one that is markedly apart from an otherwise noisy and unwelcoming world.
Furthermore, Williams and Brackens’ joint project in “The Quick” both accentuates and resists this liminal state of indeterminability for Black bodies, in order to imagine a new way of being. When approaching their collaborative work as a whole, the sensation of being at once home and not home, free and not free is palpable. The solution to this unresolve, seems to draw power from the same vulnerable place anti-Blackness seeks to exploit—the beating heart of Black beauty, for these two artists, seems to be both a space in need of protection and a powerful means of liberation.
I felt this most viscerally expressed in Brackens’ tapestries, which were draped over wooden supports in the middle of the space. In them, he depicts Black bodies en pointe and soaring through space, arms outstretched, naked and bold and uninhibited. Heavy lover (2022), in particular, captures a moment between two figures dancing perfectly in sync. With something like a halo or hoola hoop wrapped around their torsos, heads tilted backwards and eyes pointed skyward—Brackens weaves into being a delicate and intimate portrait of two free souls becoming one.
These elegant, life-size works sing the same song as Williams’ works only slightly more abstracted. Whereas Williams’ centers himself as the medium through which to express liberation—Brackens instead considers an anonymous liberation, the kind any Black body walking through the exhibition might participate in.
Brackens’ installation at the top of the stairs, to save everything flightless and drowned (2022), is a stranger, cheekier expression of the same concept: a row of chicken feet, severed at the knee and arranged in pairs, as if each of the winged bodies formerly attached to them had decided, at once, to take flight. Considering a chicken is a flightless animal, only able to flutter a few yards before landing again, this image imports a kind of mythorealism that begs the question, How on earth could a flightless bird survive without its feet? In the context of the show and in light of these iterations of Black joy, liberation, freedom, and yearning for home—this question is particularly poignant.
In the summer of 2020, as the weight of both suffering and hope nestled within the Black Lives Matter movement hung over the city, Portland came face to face with the reality of the threat Black bodies experience daily. Two years later, the urgent task of acknowledging and mitigating that threat has not changed. Williams and Brackens’ work in “The Quick,” however, expands the consideration of Black lives to encompass more than just suffering and to reach for more than just hope.
After all, it isn’t safe to be Black or queer (or both) in the world, today. To address this fact, “The Quick” carefully constructs a small but important safe space of its own—a haven for art, self expression, and individuality, where a body is finally allowed to matter on its own terms. The dance between the two artists in this collaborative exhibition is powerful, urgent. But more than anything else, it is earnest.
“The Quick” will be on view at Lumber Room through June 18th. Lumber Room is located at 419 NW 9th Ave and is open from 12:00-6:00 on Fridays and Saturdays.