LONDON — Grace Wales Bonner laid bare some of her dreams and deepest reflections at the opening of her exhibition “Time For New Dreams” at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, which will run until Feb. 16.
The London-based designer has always layered her clothes with personal explorations of African identity, spirituality and various art forms, and by staging her first exhibition, she said she was able to “accelerate” her artistic journey.
Rather than collaborating with other fashion creatives, Wales Bonner brought together a community of artists, from writers to photographers and painters. She invited them to create their own shrines, with the aim of marrying spirituality and intellectualism and creating a community space, where viewers can slow down and reflect.
She is also using the exhibition to inform her latest fall 2019 collection, which will be presented at the Serpentine Gallery alongside the art on Feb. 17, during London Fashion Week.
“Grace is this wonderful polymath who can weave the sacred thread across disciplines. She is a radical collaborator, storyteller and interrogator,” said Yana Peel, the Serpentine Galleries’ chief executive officer, adding the show is the first in an ongoing series that will aim to work more deeply with fashion, music and design.
“There are wonderful museums that can give retrospectives to fashion, but for us it’s about seeing what we can do to work with designers in new ways. It really is our mission to bring everyone together in a safe space for unsafe ideas, challenge formats and preconceptions — this really was the spirit in which this show was conceived.”
The result is a multi-media exhibition of installations, photography, film and poetry that nods to all the artists and personalities who have helped shape the designer’s identity to date.
Canadian artist Kapwani Kiwanga created a series of floral arrangements dubbed “Flowers from Africa” and Wales Bonner said she is interested in seeing them wither for the duration of the exhibition to explore the concept of time.
Musician Laraaji laid out personal objects in one of the rooms, and will offer meditation workshops during the exhibition opening days, while a piece by David Hammons features a rock with mens’ hair, collected from the floor of a barber shop, attached to it. The work explores the idea of transforming an object into something sacred.
Elsewhere, Wales Bonner said she wanted to transform a series of photographs by Nigerian-born Rotimi Fani-Kayode into a shrine of its own by honoring the memory of the artist through the display.
She also tapped Eric Mack, a frequent collaborator, to create an installation using different bright-colored fabrics, which were then used to create clothing that will feature in the new collection.
The process – which started as a conversation as far back as 2014 – was intellectually enriching, the designer said, but perhaps her biggest lesson was how to take her work beyond fashion.
“Fashion is its own institution, but it was new for me to understand how the art world and a gallery like the Serpentine function. It’s interesting to think about how I navigate that space as well,” said Wales Bonner. “My work is beyond fashion and I want to be able to show that. I am not that interested in it being isolated. It needs to have context. I think of myself an artist really. This way of collaborating has always been a part of me. I just haven’t shown it to the world until now.”
She has also been evolving her idea of the show, and as she plans to integrate her latest collection within the exhibition space, she will look to slow things down and take a step away from the speed of seasonal catwalk shows.
The collection itself will pick up references from her own shrine in the exhibition, which features music from The Howard University Choir, the first black university in the U.S.
“I have been looking at intellectual dress and university year books from the Eighties, but looking to integrate that with a sense of rhythmicality and magic. It will be a meeting point of two worlds: The artist as a shaman and the intellectual,” added the designer.