Grace Wales Bonner: A Time for New Dreams
Review by Elena K. Cruz
On a white wall of the Serpentine Sackler Gallery is an excerpt of Ben Okri’s poem Invocation for the Shrine. “The world is the shrine / And the shrine is the world,” he writes. “Listen here to the revelations / Of Saint Time.” This is Grace Wales Bonner: A Time for New Dreams.
To the left of the writing lie three bundles of flowers on geometric stands. They lead the eye towards the exhibit’s fabric installations, photography collections, TV displays and sound performances.
“Over time these flowers will die,” artist Grace Wales Bonner says of the Flowers for Africa series by Kapwani Kiwanga during a tour of the exhibition, “and I think this space should become a place of meditation and reflection.”
A Time for New Dreams is a multi-sensory exhibit in the Serpentine Sackler Gallery until 16 February 2019. Organized by Wales Bonner, the exhibit is a collaborative effort among contemporary musicians, writers, other visual artists and co-curator Claude Adjil. It uses shrines to discuss stories of black culture and visual practices. In its finality, the show bends reality to tell tales of human experience and imagination, of the mystical and the observable, of the present and the past.
Wales Bonner, known for her menswear fashion designs, has organized this month-long show as a precursor to her 2019 autumn/winter collection, Mumbo Jumbo. She brings a unique eye to the gallery world, not only due to her experience in fashion, but also by incorporating shrines. The shrines are sectioned throughout the gallery in forms of tents, wall hangings, clumps of photographs and installations. Through each shrine, artists share their experiences of black culture and mysticism.
Music comes from one shrine near the center of the gallery. Wales Bonner chose the vibrating guitar tunes in Sahel Sounds Radio, which play from a boom box on a Mauritanian carpet. The piece is placed between artist Eric N Mack’s 4-metre-tall textile structures that form ethereal booths in an African market, and the audience members’ senses alight as they walk among the artists’ work.
“I think that there’s something, an idea, of connecting to different histories, different fabrics, different ancestors and pulling together these strands of thought, putting together this sense of brotherhood and connectivity over time, over space and stretching it to the future,” Wales Bonner says.
The exhibition continues with patchwork collections of art. Photographer Rotimi Fani-Kayodede deconstructs masculinity in his black and white images of queer black men’s lives. His photographs surround Black Audio Film Collective’s Twilight City, a dreamy 1992 film about the complexity of black life in London, narrated by the fictional Olivia in a letter to her absent mother.
Past these displays is the shrine There is only one… one. It’s created by Russian-Ghanaian photographer Liz Johnson Artur, who is based in London, and it uses photograms, bamboo, felt, wood, cloth, linen, prints, stone, transparencies and rope to reflect on black history.
Wales Bonner also looked at art history to build the exhibition. “This work is very important to perhaps also acknowledge and honor the important, radical art that has happened in Britain that forms and shapes my identity,” Wales Bonner says.
“This exhibition hopes to be a space for contemplation for the audience and the viewer,” Adjil says, “to have it be a space that conjures these ideas but also then to continue that dialogue forward.”
The gallery also includes work by Chino Amobi, David Hammons, Michael-John Harper, Rashid Johnson, Klein, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Ishmael Reed, Laraaji and Sahel Sound. A Time for New Dreams is collaborative. It’s complete. It welcomes the viewer into its temporal existence.
By Elena K. Cruz