Grace Wales Bonner is a cultural polymath, who sees fashion as a means to explore ideas of identity and self-expression. Wales Bonner is recognised as one of the most innovative designers of her generation, who is changing the ways in which we understand this discipline. Through her research, she has developed a design process that involves a rich cross-pollination of sources, bringing together literary, musical and visual references. Key to her practice are long-term collaborations with other practitioners who bridge multiple disciplines and genres. Each of her fashion collections is a meditation on cultural narratives, presented within a carefully considered scenography.
Themes of mysticism and ritual permeated Wales Bonner’s exhibition, which explored magical resonances within black cultural and aesthetic practices. Taking its title from Ben Okri’s collection of essays, A Time for New Dreams (2011), the exhibition focused on the shrine as a symbolic pathway for imagining different worlds and possibilities. Over the course of one month, a multi-sensory installation and series of happenings invited contemplation and activated the gallery.
The exhibition featured an assemblage of site-specific installations and shrines. Interested in the improvisations and uses of shrines throughout black histories, Wales Bonner views these spiritual structures as material portals into multiple frames of experience. Drawing upon the images and rhythms of rituals and ceremonies from all over the world, she moves across time and space by bringing these references into dialogue with one another.
This exhibition focused on Wales Bonner’s rigorous research into multiple geographies and temporalities, culminating in the presentation of her Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, Mumbo Jumbo. Conjuring and exploring various characters, their dress, and the worlds and spaces they inhabit, the collection featured certain protagonists, such as the artist-shaman, a West African spiritual healer, and a gathering of Howard University intellectuals. At its close, the exhibition became an environment for the characters to inhabit.
A live programme included composer, playwright and artist Klein, who performed a reading in the Gallery, Poet and DJ James Massiah who presented an evening of readings inside the exhibition, and performance artist Michael-John Harper, whose ritual of movements activated the Gallery at intervals during the exhibition. New texts and invocations by Ben Okri were woven through the Gallery spaces.
This presentation continued the Serpentine’s engagement with Wales Bonner's practice, following the artist’s participation in the 2015 Transformation Marathon.