Grace Wales Bonner is famous for her thoroughly researched collections. Whereas other designers can be vague about their inspirations, citing things like “youth culture” or “New York in the ’70s” Wales Bonner’s shows almost come with a required reading list. Her Fall/Winter 2018 show notes even included an extensive bibliography.
Now, ahead of the LVMH Prize-winning designer’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection, Wales Bonner has turned her research process into the A Time for New Dreams exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London. Expanding on her exploration of Indian mysticism for SS19, Wales Bonner has turned her attention to the relationship between black spirituality and the diaspora.
Curated by the designer, the exhibition includes work by Wales Bonner herself, as well as artists such as Eric N. Mack, Liz Johnson Artur, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Rashid Johnson, and more.
Stepping into the gallery is like entering the world of Wales Bonner’s upcoming collection. Called Mumbo Jumbo, the FW19 collection is inspired by an “artist-shaman, a West African spiritual healer, and a gathering of Howard University intellectuals,” and explores the role of mysticism in each of their lives.
In her research, Wales Bonner was drawn to the work of American historian Robert Farris Thompson in particular, and what she calls “the idea of grounding, the aesthetic connection of black American expression with specific rituals, traditions, and ceremonies that originated in Africa and in the Caribbean.”
The designer continues: “This resulted in my interest in those threads and connections on how people absorb certain lineages, how it manifests, and how the idea of spirituality is communicated aesthetically. Spirituality is something that is intangible, so it’s thinking about how one visually explores those connections and explore the ideas of connecting to a spiritual realm.”
The immersive show combines photography, video, installation, and music, with mini shrines dotting the gallery space, serving as “portals into other spiritual dimensions, also connections into different historical moments, and connections to intellectual fore, ancestors, and spirituality.”
Art and fashion are closely linked, so it’s not unusual for someone to work across both fields — think Hedi Slimane, Gosha Rubchinskiy, or Tom Ford — but it’s still rare that someone’s art would offer such a behind-the-scenes look into the process of conceptualizing a collection.
“I feel the boundaries are blurring more and more, but there’s also been a close connection between art and fashion,” Wales Bonner explains. “The art institution has allowed me to express and explore my research, with space and time for deeper reflection. Space to reflect and meditate has always been important to me and something I attempt to carve out for myself in any field.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to engage with a wider audience, to reveal my artistic practice and intentions, and for the potential for dialogue around ideas that are so close to my heart and a part of who I am.”
A Time for New Dreams runs until February 16 at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Grace Wales Bonner’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection Mumbo Jumbo will debut on February 17.