This feature highlights a different local artist each week. Got someone in mind you think deserves the spotlight? Hit us up at [email protected].
Artist of the week: Darryl DeAngelo Terrell
A subject with an hourglass figure cinched in a white corset shows off their bare ass in a photo at Detroit’s Galerie Camille. In another photo of this perfectly round bottom, a pearl necklace cascades down the subject’s back. The photographer is intentionally drawing the viewer’s eye directly to the subject’s voluptuous backside, and it works.
When six-foot-seven artist Darryl DeAngelo Terrell walks into the gallery, it’s clear the voluptuous ass pictured belongs to them. But technically, the photos aren’t of Terrell themself — they’re of Terrell’s lush, femme alter ego Dion.
Terrell, or Dion, is both the model and the photographer in this Gallerie Camille exhibit titled, I Owe You Nothing, This Is For Me, which opens on Friday, Jan. 20. It’s the Detroit-born, Brooklyn-based artist’s first solo show.
“With Dion, I’m building my perfect world,” Terrell tells us at Galerie Camille while preparing for the show’s opening. “It’s me building a world where I can exist and be celebrated being Black, fat, femme, and queer.”
The show features a variety of self-portraits of Dion serving looks with long nails, a fur coat, voluminous wigs, and shimmering dresses.
“I grew up in a family full of women and you know Black Detroit women, they fly,” Terrell says. “Especially from the ’90s! I think about the sequin bodysuits my momma had and all of these things that resemble this very Black Detroit status — the long nails and big jewelry, the fur coats — just this level of opulence that I think is unique to Detroit is where I get a lot of my influence.”
Often Dion is dressed in barely anything like in a boudoir diptych of them in a canopy bed titled, “You fat fat, you da kinda fat that’ll make a nigga bite the skin between his thumb and pointing finger.”
Yes, that’s the real title, and Terrell incorporates humor in their work to approach conversations about queerness with lightheartedness.
“Being queer is fucking hilarious,” they tell us as we share laughs at the gallery. “And then the added layer of being six-foot-seven, 400 pounds, and queer and then being the bottom! There becomes this idea that men seem to have where they’re like, ‘I wanna make you my bitch.’ It’s all power dynamics.”
The series of black-of-white butt photos — called “I mean… it’s just the small of my back….. ain’t that all you wanted to see anyways?” — was inspired by the ways Terrell is asked to perform for the men they have sex with.
“Oftentimes I’m asked to be extremely submissive,” they explain. “I’m asked to be extremely feminine and to perform these acts of labor. But it’s like y’all don’t really care about the way I’m presenting myself. All you wanna do is spend your three minutes behind me and fall into my back when you finish when you ask for a towel and leave.”
Other titles include “With Expensive Taste…That’s It, Ain’t Shit Broke Round Here,” “Documentation of Dion Being A Bad Bitch… Periodt,” and “Play Jill Scott, Album 3, Track 14, at 1:19.” That last one is a set of instructions that leads you to the real title, a part in the song where Jill Scott says “I just wanna be loved.”
While Terrell is upbeat and sure of themselves during our conversation, they weren’t always that way. That’s where Dion comes in. The alter ego was birthed while Terrell was in grad school for photography and was pressed about the self-deprecating work they were making at the time.
“My first piece I did in grad school was titled, ‘I Wish I Was Perfectly Happy,’” Terrell remembers. “I photographed myself very plainly against a white backdrop with some gray underwear, very ashy. Literally, my knees were ashy like I had been praying in flour. It was basically dissecting the way my body was perceived by society and the ways I’ve internalized those things. My advisor at the time was like, ‘Damn Darryl, what do you love about yourself?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ All the things I should love about myself I’ve been taught not to, because of this body, because I was born male because I’m so big…”
They continue, “So I started thinking, in a perfect world, who would Darryl be and how would they represent themselves? The things I love about myself are the soft things.”
So Terrell made their first photo project as Dion, which is featured in the show, called “Dion Untitled #3 or Sitting Pretty or These Niggas Revolve Around ME.”
It was originally a triptych, but only one photo is in the Galerie Camille show. In it, Dion is topless in a wicker chair, wearing a tulle skirt, and flanked by two “conventionally attractive” men. This is when Dion was born.
“It was inspired by those black velvet paintings of the ’90s where you see a woman on the throne with two leopards at her feet and she’s got her staff and a spear,” Terrell says about the photo. “But I was like, what if the two leopards at my feet were two Black men? Specifically, Black men who are deemed more attractive, and more desirable (than me). What would it be like for them to be not only adorning and caressing me but protecting me? So literally it’s making me the center of their universe.”
Since that first photo of Dion, Terrell has gone on to become a 2018 Luminarts Fellow in Visual Arts, a 2019 Kresge Visual Arts Fellow, a 2021 Red Bull House of Art Resident, a 2021 Black Rock Senegal Resident, and more. They have performed and exhibited work at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., and beyond.
Making work as Dion, the sassy character who exudes glamor, softness, and strength, has helped Terrell in their journey towards loving themselves and their body.
“There’s definitely a confidence and heightened level of self-awareness that I as Darryl have grown into. I learn from Dion,” they explain. “In certain situations, I’ll be like WWDD, what would Dion do? Dion would be like, ‘Bitch please!’ I live more. I done said fuck these niggas too many times now and I fell in love with my body more.”
However, when asked if they envision a world in which Dion could exist, outside of art and performance spaces as the true expression of Terrell, the conversation turns slightly grim.
“There’s been times in which I’ve been able to,” they begin. “This past summer during my Fire Island Residency, which is as gay as gay can get, I was walking around every day with a kaftan on with my hair wrapped, with a joint, and everyone’s painting each other’s fingernails. I could really exude softness in ways that I haven’t been able to in the past, which was nice. But also, this world is scary and I’ve watched this world destroy and kill so many queer and Black trans people, and nonbinary people. I don’t want that.”
They add, “This body of work is influenced by the femme queens, the drag queens, the butch queens, the people who are able to live very unapologetically. Don’t get me wrong, I do live unapologetically, but within the confines that society provides for me. … I hope my work can be a mirror for my queer community. I hope they feel seen, I hope they feel heard, because oftentimes as queer artists, we don’t feel that way. I want people to come in and feel challenged, but also feel like damn, these are just gorgeous photos.”
Where to see their work: I Owe You Nothing, This Is For Me is on view at Galerie Camille until Feb. 18.
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