A Time for New Dreams

Featuring: Chino Amobi, Black Audio Film Collective, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, David Hammons, Michael-John Harper, Liz Johnson Artur, Rashid Johnson, Kapwani Kiwanga, Klein, Laraaji, Eric N. Mack, James Massiah, Kei Miller, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Ben Okri, Ishmael Reed, Sahel Sounds, Sampha, Grace Wales Bonner.

Themes of mysticism and ritual permeate Wales Bonner’s exhibition, which explores magical resonances within black cultural and aesthetic practices. Taking its title from Ben Okri’s volume of essays, A Time for New Dreams (2011), which in many ways is a proposition for how to live and dream, the exhibition focuses on the shrine as a symbolic pathway for imagining different worlds and possibilities. Over the course of one month, a multi-sensory assemblage of site-specific installations and shrines, as well as a series of happenings, invite contemplation and activate the gallery. 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, and on her rigorous research across multiple geographies and temporalities, she moves across time and space by bringing these references into dialogue.

The exhibition culminates in the presentation of Wales Bonner’s forthcoming Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, Mumbo Jumbo. The collection conjures and explores various characters, their dress, and the worlds and spaces they inhabit, such as an artist-shaman, a West African spiritual healer, and a gathering of Howard University intellectuals. At its close, the exhibition becomes an environment for the characters to inhabit. The title of Wales Bonner’s collection is taken from writer Ishmael Reed’s seminal text of 1972, which through its satirical and collage approach traces a series of narratives in 1920s New York, encompassing Voodoo, Jazz music and white supremacy. Subverting political and historical fact with the poetics of magical realism, Reed’s text, together with his notion of Neo-HooDoo, which posits ‘every man...[as]...an artist and every artist a priest’, are key informants to Wales Bonner’s thinking behind this exhibition. As writer and musician Greg Tate states:

Hoodoo is what you call hope, what you call medicine, what you call the nine billion names of Gods... Who will have to also make myth, music, magic, muscle memory, race memory, and yeah, the English language do strange things, forbidden and unbidden things, unofficial and twisted creole things, thangs even, to steal a drink from freedom’s cup? This is what we mean by Hoodoo. [1]

Music, magic and myth are assembled and disassembled throughout the exhibition, drawing upon a vast array of reference points in order to consider how spirituality can exist outside of definable faiths and how ritual manifests through artistic praxis. This far-reaching approach to spirituality and its variant manifestations is echoed by the extensive research of Robert Farris Thompson into African-Atlantic altars, whose 1993 publication, Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas is foundational to Wales Bonner’s own research into the different meanings of shrines. Central to Farris Thompson’s definition of these structures is their dual status as both fixed and moving: ‘fixed (tree, fire, stone, dais) and moving (ring shouts, dancing, handclapping, circling, ecstasy), leading ultimately to visitation by healing spirits under God.[2] Drawing upon this sentiment, A Time for New Dreams shifts continuously between collective and individual rituals – from the shared experience of a musical performance to the transformative encounter with a text or an image. As intimated by the title, Wales Bonner envisions a space where new dreams and potentially new worlds can emerge.

Claude Adjil and Joseph Constable, Serpentine Galleries

[1]  Tate, Greg. (2008), ‘Hoodoo is what we do’ in NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. p. 32.

[2]  Thompson, R. F. (1993). Face of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas. Munich, Germany: Prestel Publishing: inside cover.

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