Derrick Woods-Morrow builds a safe space for “queer kin” throughout his multidisciplinary practice

Derrick Woods-Morrow is more than an artist and photographer, he’s also an educator, sexual health activist and archivist – someone who navigates past histories and picks out “glitches” that show an alternative queer future. Based in Chicago and originally from Greensboro, North Carolina, his work encompasses an exploration into Black sexuality and freedom. He grew up surrounded by the love of his mother, grandmother and southern community; he also had “a very strong, Black male figures around my entire childhood,” he tells It’s Nice That. “They’ve made me think about my choice to currently identify as male, Black and queer. I think about freedoms people stole from them, and freedoms they’ve stolen from others. In my work, I give those freedoms flesh.”
Through a multidisciplinary mindset, Derrick has built an array of powerful narratives through the use of mixed-media, found imagery, portraiture and film. The body takes centre stage, as does the lensing of sexual freedom and the importance of providing a safe space for his community. When he was younger, he explains how his sexual education arose in adolescence, “but as early as I can remember, I explored by own body with others my age.” This leaves him pondering, now, whether he will ever reach such a state of free play again. “How can queer Black folks play and see ourselves as whole, when many of our childhood memories involve self-protective hiding? Where can we rest? Where do we have space to make mistakes?”
Derrick decided to pack his bags and move from Greensboro to the north, after hearing myths that it would provide a “better life”. He headed to Boston and studied at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, followed by the School of Art Institute of Chicago. “I encountered violent expulsion, especially from the police and within the gay community,” he recalls. Since, he incorporates the act of imaginative play – something he learned from his childhood – through his work across the board. Besides his artistic endeavours, Derrick also tends to the educational side of his practice and recently accepted a full-time faculty position at the Rhode Island School of Design, during which he focuses on “blurring and dismantling” the notions and boundaries of art, social activism and sex. Additionally, he’s also a member of the Chicago-based collective, Concerned Black Image Makers (CBIM) in which he’s started researching rural America for a project. So to say that Derrick is passionate and hard-working would be understated.

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