DESIGN / PROFILE
Grace Wales Bonner eschews attention. Yet for someone who is not an active social media user, nor one to bask in the media spotlight, she has developed an impressive reputation since she set up her fashion business, armed with a BA
from Central Saint Martins, in 2014.
LEFT HAND PREVIOUS PAGE The love in which I wash, SS16 collection, Malik. Photographed by Harley Weir and styled by Tom Guinness in Udaipur THIS PAGE BELOW Detail of There is only one … one, by Liz Johnson Artur, 2019 BOTTOM Shrine II by Grace Wales Bonner, 2019. All works from A Time for New Dreams, Serpentine Gallery
We meet at her exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery. Titled A Time for New Dreams, it unravels Bonner’s design process through displaying the work of artists and thinkers who have influenced her, or form part of her own cultural lineage, such as Ben Okri and Ishmael Reed.
‘The starting point for me with this exhibition was thinking about the role that writers play in tracing connections between Africa and the Caribbean,’ Bonner, aged 28, explains, ‘in the sense of interpreting ideas of ritual and spirituality, and how those things are transferred and integrated in the black Atlantic.’
As she leads us on a tour of the exhibition, it is clear that Bonner does not pander to her audience and is unafraid to use academic concepts and references. Initially shy and softly spoken, but clearly self-aware, she grows more confident when we subsequently talk more privately about her engagement with cultural ideas. She tells me her interest in theory began during her time at Central Saint Martins, although she was always interested in identity and representation.
‘I remember reading Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture,’ she says, ‘and thinking about this idea of a third space between space.’ The work of postcolonial theorists such as Bhabha, who in the 1990s created a new language for talking about hybrid identities, has deeply shaped the way Bonner thinks. Bhabha