click to enlarge Akea Brionne. - Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Akea Brionne.

In Akea Brionne’s dreams, she summons her ancestors, some of whom have passed away and others she never met. They congregate in deserts and warped beaches where voodoo and religious indoctrination both meet and separate, as culture becomes lost under colonialism.

The young artist transfers these dreams onto canvas in her solo show Trying to Remember at Detroit’s Library Street Collective, which opened on November 17.

She’s trying to remember, not only her dreams, but her Creole roots and traditions as her family migrated across the globe. Brionne is originally from New Orleans and her family’s heritage traces back to Honduras and Belize. The Cranbrook Academy graduate and self-portrait artist moved to Detroit for graduate school and now lives between Detroit and Baltimore. She says she doesn’t have roots anywhere.

“My work centers around ideas of displacement and migration, being Creole and coming from New Orleans,” she explains. “Right now a lot of my work has been processing those forced migrations that have happened, and thinking about what it means to often be the only Creole, or the only Afro-Latina in spaces. There’s also this mixing of landscapes and interior and exterior space that starts to intersect, which is representative of my own mental state of moving in and out of spaces.”

A constant force in Brionne and her family’s migration is water, which appears in nearly every piece in the show amidst distorted landscapes and strange figures embellished with shiny crystals.

“[Hurricane] Katrina happened when I was eight. That was in 2005, and it caused a huge scattering for my whole family,” she says. “And since then, we’ve just been really scattered and migrating across the south and southwest. And then, of course, I ended up here in Detroit, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what water is as a force that has sort of been guiding me. But it’s also been really destructive.”

Brionne previously worked mostly in self-portraiture and although Trying to Remember deviates from that practice visually, it’s conceptually similar.

For this show, Brionne creates jacquard textiles to depict her dreams. She starts by collaging self portraits and family photographs, then feeds those images to an AI software (she makes sure to tell us it’s not ChatGPT) along with a detailed description of her dream. Once the AI spits out the image, she further distorts it with references to memories like her childhood home in New Orleans and makes them into tapestries.

click to enlarge Akea Brionne’s “The Moon Directs the Sea.” - Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

Akea Brionne’s “The Moon Directs the Sea.”

They’re stretched across a canvas and filled with polyfill (aka doll stuffing) so the figures mimic voodoo dolls that Brionne grew up with.

“In Louisiana there’s a lot of mixing of French, Spanish, Indigenous, and African cultures, so through that I grew up with these sort of rituals being a consistent thing [and] having altars in the house,” she says. “Voodoo dolls aren’t something I necessarily use, personally, but almost every woman in my family has them and there’s three that have been passed down from my great grandmother. I use [them] more as a guide, just thinking about people who have passed that I can’t necessarily connect to… having this physical doll, in a way, keeps this communication happening.”

The pieces include symbols with religious connotations like the serpent. Though her family had these strong cultural and spiritual practices, Brionne says she was raised in a strict church because her mother was a pastor. Including these symbols in the show is a way of reversing the religious indoctrination she received as a child.

“I was not able to wear chokers because they were the devil. I wasn’t able to read anything that wasn’t the Bible for school assignments. I could not partake in Halloween. There was consistent fasting. It was really intense,” she says. “And so I often think about the serpent. Outside of religion, it’s not actually a negative symbol. It’s one of transformation, but for me, it was something that was so steeped in negativity and evil and temptation.”

In one of her dreams reflected in the show, the snake was the last thing she saw before she woke up.

“It felt like this sort of mental captivity that I am constantly navigating through where I’m still trying to uncondition myself,” she says.

Where to see her work: Trying to Remember is on view at Library Street Collective until January 6.;

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