Ten’s To See: ‘A Time For New Dreams’ by Grace Wales Bonner At The Serpentine Sackler Gallery
Photograph by Jamie Morgan
Calling Grace Wales Bonner a fashion designer wouldn’t just be an understatement, but also incorrect. The clothes she designs are just the outcome of a long process of research and art practice, of reading books and looking at the world that surrounds her. If anything singular, Wales Bonner is a scholar. The way she approaches fashion is totally unique in the way that she never seems phased by the industry, but instead exists in a lane of her own, one that’s influenced by philosophers and artists, rather than trends and seasons. A showcase of Grace Wales Bonner’s process is currently on display at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in Kensington Gardens as part of her first standalone gallery exhibition, A Time for New Dreams.
The dreams Wales Bonner is referring to in the title aren’t just her own. Those dreams are part of the collective spirit behind the group of artists and collaborators that inspire her work. For all those reasons, the exhibition seems like the perfect kick-off to the series of annual short-duration projects bringing interdisciplinary practice into the gallery space.
Entering the Sackler Gallery instantly makes you realise this is not an exhibition, but an immersive experience. The soundtrack, as well as the artworks on display and words scattered around the space – they are all part of a bigger picture painted by Grace Wales Bonner. As she takes us around the gallery during the private view, a day before the exhibition opens to the public, it’s also clear that this is something she’s been mulling over for years. The interior installations by Rashid Johnson and floral works of Kapwani Kiwanga open the space, before we walk into a fabric den created by Eric N. Mack (commissioned by Wales Bonner for this occasion). While she talks about each of the individual pieces, lauding on why each of the artists found their way into the space, Wales Bonner doesn’t miss a beat. No word is a throwaway, which is also evident by the carefully curated experience the visitor indulges in by walking into the gallery.
A great discovery is the photographic work of Rotimi Fani-Kayode, a Nigerian-born artist who used elements of traditional rituals and intertwined them with homoeroticism, creating captivating images that at first look like documentary portraits, but definitely aren’t. This exhibition transforms the space from a a gallery into a shrine, thanks to the spiritual realm Wales Bonner is so inspired by. One of the desks in the space represents her own shrine, with multiple books and imagery scattered around it, and a TV playing excerpts from videos with Ben Okri and Ishmael Reed.
The shrine that is Serpentine Sackler Gallery will also serve as the backdrop for the upcoming presentation of Wales Bonner’s AW19 collection Mumbo Jambo (title taken from Ishmael Reed’s seminal 1972 novel). What are we to expect? “It’s mainly responding to dress in 1980s Howard University. Sort of intellectual dress; college, and varsity clothing and kind of imbuing that into magical realism and integrating it with a different cultural perspective and also, considering this idea of artists and artists’ wardrobe, so it’s characters that have a relationship with the space as well,” she tells me after the tour. Loads to be excited for February 17th.
In a time when art and fashion has never been so close, it’s not groundbreaking to see a designer working their way into a gallery space. It is however groundbreaking getting to know and understand a designer with such depth of research. And not just seeing it from the outside, but actually stepping into their own world, interacting with all the pieces which make the complex puzzle that is Grace Wales Bonner.
‘A Time for New Dreams’ by Grace Wales Bonner is on display at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, West Carriage Drive, Kensington Gardens, until February 16th. Admission free.
serpentinegalleries.org / walesbonner.net