Ten’s to See: ‘Grace before Jones: Camera, Disco, Studio’ at Nottingham Contemporary
As a model, actress, singer, and so much more, Grace Jones is nothing less than a cultural icon and innovator. Her iconic androgynous look, that consists of closely cropped hair and angular padded clothing, became iconic throughout her career and continues to do so. It comes at no surprise, then, that Nottingham Contemporary would dedicate its most recent exhibition – Grace Before Jones: Camera, Disco, Studio – to the multifaceted artistic legend.
After relocating from her hometown in Jamaica to Syracuse, New York at 13-years-old, Jones’s modelling career took off on an international scale, working with brands such as YSL and Kenzo. After meeting in New York in the late ’70s, Jones’ relationship with photographer Jean-Paul Goude became fundamental to fulfilling the emerging star’s creative vision and manifesting her memorable look that would dominate the 1970s and ’80s.
The duo sparked controversy when the cover of Goude’s 1981 book Jungle Fever featured naked Jones in a metal, barred cage glaring her teeth. The political implications of a white, French man photographing a black woman, in such a way that presents her as primitive and inferior, would certainly not be accepted today. Jones defends the photos as a result of their personal creative relationship, “we really were art soul mates,” she explains, “there was no fear. And if he was afraid, I made sure I wasn’t afraid.” The image, however, is one of the most infamous of Jones’s career and Goude himself reminisced over the image when shooting Kim Kardashian for THAT Paper cover in 2014.
Displaying work from artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Azzedine Alaïa and Robert Mapplethorpe, Nottingham Contemporary’s exhibition operates as fan-fiction, study and biography. The exhibition celebrates Jones and her accomplishments, whilst also questioning “black image-making and gender binarism as well as both performance and performance of life.” The multitude of Jones’s identities, “from disco queen to dub cyborg; Jamaican to French; runway model to nightclub performer; black to white; feminine to masculine,” are all explored in the exhibition as the star challenges gender boundaries by rejecting definition and labels of sexuality.
As the writer Malik Gaines explains, Jones and her array of identities, celebrated in the exhibition, are “able to articulate not the wholeness of black identity, but rather constructiveness of all identity.” Here at 10, we can’t wait to get ourselves up’t north to explore Grace Jones’ constant self-reinvention and navigate through the contemporary perspective of the star’s ever-evolving image-making.
Photography courtesy of Nottingham Contemporary. ‘Grace Before Jones: Camera, Disco, Studio’ is open until January 3, 2021.