Meet Old No. 77 Hotel’s Newest Artist in Residence: Derrick Woods-Morrow
Meet Derrick, ya’ll. Our newest artistic talent to call the Old No. 77 Hotel home. Over the next several weeks, he’ll be in New Orleans working, creating, and sharing his process with us.
Originally from Greensboro, North Carolina, Derrick currently resides in the Windy City (Chicago) where he works as a sexual health advocate and activist while pursuing his passion in the arts. His work is a meditation on deviation and disruption, language, and representation on growing up in the American South.
His work has been exhibited in collaboration with Paul Mpagi Sepuya in the 2019 Whitney Biennial; internationally in This is America at Kunsthal KAdE in Amersfoort, Netherlands; Detroit Art Week Expo; and in the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. In Winter of 2019, his second short film, 'much handled things are always soft' debuted in collaboration with the VISUAL AIDS 30th Annual Day With(out) ART programming at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Contemporary Art LA, The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, The Brooklyn Museum, and over a hundred institutions worldwide. He is the 2021 Edith and Philip Leonian fellow at the Center of Photography Woodstock; Bemis Residency Recipient; and a visiting artist at Antenna Works. Previous residencies at the Fire Island Artist Residency, Chicago Artists Coalition’s Bolt Residency, and he is a recipient of the 2018 Artadia Award – Chicago.
Q: Derrick, tell us where your artistic journey began? What inspired your path?
A: I want to say it began in a cornfield somewhere daydreaming about escaping the planet or something like that. I grew up in a place that was very small and quite country, and "unwelcome" flags flew around my elementary, middle, and high school. I hardly knew what it all meant at the time, but I always told my mom I wanted to be an intergalactic space robot, who fought for justice, had superpowers, and could travel whenever he wanted - far from Brown Summit, North Carolina, the small country town, right outside of Greensboro, NC, where I grew up. My mother never told me I couldn't be that, between her and my grandmother, they really never told me I couldn't be anything, ever, and I think that's honestly how I became an artist.
Q: Can you tell us more about the projects you currently have in the works? And what you’ll be working on during your stay in New Orleans at Old No. 77?
A: I didn't quite make it to outer space -- yet. But, I did leave home, choosing a college that was out of the state, which was a first for my immediate and extended family, who primarily stayed within the vicinity of Greensboro, NC and Brown Summit, NC. And I kept moving north, hitting Boston, New York, Chicago and I felt I needed to return to the south and reconnect - plug in. I want to acknowledge that New Orleans doesn't often feel like the south, but it is one of the most uniquely enriched and openly diverse places in the Gulf south region that I've encountered in my journey through life. It's filled with a different energy from where I grew up and yet there are so many moments I've felt at home while being here. Both the similarities and differences are why I've started the process of housing a project here that extends to all the surrounding areas, the 16 states that make up the American South region. In the project, I am meeting black folx, and asking them to share their stories, affirming our shared experiences of growing up in the south, filming small vignettes of queer black communities, dialoging about sexual health and sex, in order to develop a multimedia film installation, with audio components, photographs, and garments. I am also writing some poetry around my intimate encounters, considering how sexuality & sex are operating differently for most of us during the Covid-19 pandemic, exploring what sexual exploration at a distance may look like - kink, digital sharing, and alternative methods of connection for black folx in the south.
Q: What has been most inspiring or interesting to you while you’ve been here in New Orleans?
A: The South is about culture, and that culture transcends being monolithic. Black folx exists in so many different ways, and identities down here and it is so inspiring. Just hearing people share their stories has been beautiful. I am learning about spiritual energy, pageantry, and indulgence, and among so many topics, all of it feels so complex and so torrid, and I've fallen in love with this place, maybe most of all because it's really messed up especially from an infrastructure standpoint, yet everything we love about New Orleans is because of the people, the black people. These are same people not supported by the infrastructure. It felt like a good time in my life to look at the bigger picture of how I came to exist in the South as a closeted black boy and begin the dialogues today I wish were more common when I was younger. This will be the first time in my life I'll get to spend this length of time here, so I am so excited to indulge, partake and just listen.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: This morning? I'm going to go have some tea, probably earl grey, and open a new book. I think I'll go check out the newly opened Baldwin & Co. bookstore here in New Orleans. In the summer of 2018, I traced James Baldwin all over and throughout the city of Paris, where he too went on a journey of escape. I have always seen him as a bit of a muse, and inspiration. Of course, he came back, and everything he's given voice to here in America continues to drive much of my work. My return to the South, is similar in that I could never really leave it for too long, it eventually drew me back, maybe to stay for a bit longer each time. If I can find funding, and housing I'd like to move here, it would enrich the work in a way that coming down here in short burst from Chicago could not. In the near future, I want to be here.
Old No. 77 Hotel’s month-long and short-term residencies invite artists, like Derrick, from around the country on a cultural exploration of the Crescent City – giving them a place to live and create. Learn more about the Artist in Residence program on the Old No. 77 Hotel's site and for more on Derrick, follow along on Instagram.