DESIGN / PROFILE
very “street” aesthetic,’ she explains.
Is she trying to subvert that? ‘I think I’ve always just tried to show a very gentle and beautiful representation of black masculinity,’ she reflects. ‘My vision of masculinity and black masculinity was very much about this idea of a very sophisticated black male who is also sensuous and gentle in the way that he communicates and looks.’
The Serpentine exhibition is a homage to intellectual black culture. It is framed around the notion of the shrine, which is the subject of American historian Robert Farris Thompson’s book Face of Gods: Art and Altars of the Black Atlantic World. Bonner sees Thompson’s writing as a link between Caribbean spiritual practice and how it manifests across the Atlantic. This led her to reflect on how to visualise spirituality.
‘I definitely consider myself spiritual, and I think that this show is very much a reflection of that,’ she says, ‘what’s happening in my mind, and where I am, and how I connect to time, and how I connect to ancestors.’ The shrines displayed in the exhibition manifest spirituality in a number of varied forms.
Her own ‘shrine’ comprises a found cabinet displaying cultural artefacts of meaning to her, such as a copy of The Black Monastic by Theaster Gates, a Ben Okri poetry collection, a book on magical realism and a 1988 edition of Wire magazine featuring a black figure on the cover and lead story about jazz. Such objects are a clear tribute to the discourse on black culture that precedes Bonner, and of which she seeks reciprocally to become a part. It is clear how she connects to those works from a couplet by Okri pasted on a wall, which reads: ‘Breathe the air of those brave ancestors; / They were ladders to new worlds.’
THIS SPREAD A 2015 shoot in Dakar, Senegal by photographer Harley Weir and stylist Julia Sarr-Jamois. Local wrestlers wear Bonner’s Ebonics collection