The Revelations of Grace Wales Bonner

The Revelations of Grace Wales Bonner

February 20, 2019

LONDON — On the outside of the envelope that contained the invitation to Grace Wales Bonner’s fall show were stamped a few lines by the American writer Ishmael Reed: “I had no systematic way of learning but proceeded like a quilt maker, a patch of knowledge here a patch there but lovingly knitted. I would hungrily devour the intellectual scraps and leftovers of the learned.”

Ms. Wales Bonner’s own method is much the same. She is more serious, and her approach more scholarly, than many of her compatriots. Since her breakout collection in 2015, she has been patching her way toward a grand theory of style that connects fashion to history, to art and to black culture.

For her move to London Fashion Week from the smaller London men’s wear week where she previously has shown, she had an enviable venue: The Serpentine Sackler Gallery, where “A Time for New Dreams,” a show she curated with the gallery, has just been extended through March 17.

The show and her fall collection were meant to be of a piece, one complementing the other. On Sunday night, when guests gathered to see it, a man was seated at the piano, playing softly: Mr. Reed. He performed as part of the show and the writer Ben Okri recited a poem written for the occasion.

Ms. Wales Bonner’s collections often engage with the black experience, especially as it migrates around the globe. The feeling of her new collection was identifiably African-American: She had looked through yearbooks from Howard University and focused on pieces like varsity jackets, baseball jerseys, jeans and boxy tailored jackets, reworking them with flourishes of West Africa and the Caribbean like the found feathers that peeped out of pockets and trimmed the hem of a jersey.

“I wanted to imbue these very classic American staples with a sense of magic, and spirituality and ritual that comes from another place,” she said after the show. “I was very much thinking about how art can be a very direct form of spirituality, how you can channel spirituality through the process of creation.”

It was affecting, and effective. With the exhibition as backdrop, her show felt separate from the usual ebb and flow of fashion week. But the collection rose to the occasion. Ms. Wales Bonner’s elongated tuxedo jackets, pinned with brooches that suggested talismans, were some of the most desirable pieces shown all week.

Likewise her varsity jackets, branded St. James, for James Hampton, an American outsider artist of the midcentury (Ms. Wales Bonner dedicated the show to him). Mr. Hampton was a visionary who privately prepared for the return of Christ by creating a shrine of sorts — an assemblage of a throne, statuary and spiritual arcana — discovered in a rented carriage house in Washington, D.C., after his death in 1964 and now in the collection at the Smithsonian. Ms. Wales Bonner had studied his notebook, written in his invented and impenetrable script, which he signed “St. James.”

“On every page,” she said, “he’d sign off, ‘Revelation.’”

Collection after collection, show after show, Ms. Wales Bonner is signing off on her own Revelations of Grace. Connecting herself so consciously with the greats is a bold gesture but in its ongoing arc, her work has a magnetism and resonance rare in contemporary fashion.

“There’s a lot of commonality in our approaches to art,” said Mr. Reed, whose 1972 novel “Mumbo Jumbo” is widely considered a classic. “There’s an aesthetic where you grab everything from different traditions, different cultures.”

Source: Read Full Article