Friday 25th October

| BY Dino Bonacic

Bianca Saunders Opens ‘Nearness’, An Exhibition Celebrating the Power of Her Creative Community

Long gone are the days when fashion designers had six months to work on each of their two annual collections which were then shown to the world in a controlled environment of a not-so-well-lit catwalk space and some nondescript techno tracks. Well, that was never a thing for Bianca Saunders anyway, as the London-based menswear designer spent the past couple of years establishing herself as the name to watch, what with the elevated tailoring woven with personal stories but also the cultural aspects of her brand. Her graduate collection from RCA was accompanied with a film and a zine made out of transcripts of conversations she had with her close group of friends. On sexuality and dress, all in relation to the feeling of being a black man. Installations during Pitti Uomo in Florence and Copenhagen International Fashion Fair as well as a performance in the windows of London’s Selfridges reinforced the fact that Saunders wasn’t just another designer making beautiful clothes. She has a point of view that transcends garments, and peaks of and to a community that inspires her. Perhaps the culmination of all those dabbles into the art world has now poured into Bianca Saunders’ first big exhibition Nearness which opened last night inside the halls of the Brixton Village. “It’s weird because I actually had to stop and think about it today properly, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, this is something I said I wanted to do when I was at the RCA,” the designer told us at the opening.

The South London marketplace not only makes sense geographically (Saunders grew up close to Brockley), but also announces the brand’s workspace finally moving from her home and into one of the art studios situated above the shops in the coming weeks. Over the next three days, the exhibition curated by the designer will feature works of her tight-knit collaborators across four different spaces within the market. It’s like a Bianca Saunders artistic labyrinth, including photography and videos. “It’s great to be able to have the space to produce different aspects of the brand, and also give the artists the freedom to have their own space to do what they wanted to do, instead of it just being one piece of art work in a massive space,” she says.

In the space closest to one of the main entrances (Unit 2a), there’s a selection of images of the brand’s SS20 collection Saunders produced in collaboration with photographer Ronan Mckenzie. Dressed in the checked creases and pulls from the stellar presentation, it’s the designer’s close family (including her siblings and cousins) who posed in front of the camera in what Saunders described as a reconnection with her Caribbean roots. “We have a massive family of images in England so I thought it would be quite important to base people’s work that will relate to the area, and relate to London, and relate to their blackness as well too” Just a couple of steps further down and a staircase up to the first level (above Unit 6a), artist Akinola Davies Jr (who has been working with Saunders since her debut collection) erected a video installation with a film project for which he travelled to Nigeria’s Muslim north, capturing the festivities marking the end of Ramadan and the sartorial choices of the attendees.

The second video installation space (above Unit 12) features works of Rochelle White and Caleb Femi, both films showcasing narratives of black experiences in different environments. The final room (Unit 14e) sees collage works of Jazz Grant titled Gated Community deriving from found imagery delves into the past, present and future in order to celebrate Black History month, which was a clear underlying theme for the whole of Nearness. “It’s about community of reach as well, working with these people made the final creation easier to connect to and make as well, it made the final creation a lot easier for myself also,” the designer tells us before she saunters away into the waves of exciting crowds sipping on rum and ginger beer, celebrating the first of many exhibitions attached to the name of Bianca Saunders.

‘Nearness’ by Bianca Saundersis on display at the Brixton Village until October 27th.