PRINT December 2016

Grace Wales Bonner

Sandú Darié, Columna espacial (Spatial Column), 1955, oil on wood, 44 1/2 × 13".

1 “CONCRETE CUBA” (DAVID ZWIRNER, LONDON) This exhibition introduced me to the dynamic work of the Diez Pintores Concretos (Ten Concrete Painters), a largely unknown group of artists active in Cuba during the 1950s and ’60s. Working amid the tumultuous cultural and political aftermath of Fulgencio Batista’s coup, the group drew on the international style of geometric abstraction to forge a new, utopian visual language. Among the show’s highlights were Sandú Darié’s playful sculpture and painting; his works’ subdued palette felt distinctively local, the deep browns, auburns, and yellows conveying a rich, earthy materiality.

2 “DAVID HAMMONS: FIVE DECADES” (MNUCHIN GALLERY, NEW YORK) Confronting his audience with an array of freestanding vintage microphones at the show’s entrance, Hammons forcefully evoked the uneasy history of the black body onstage in America. Black genius reverberates through the grand Upper East Side space, permeating the meticulous selection of objects and bringing to mind a range of people, stories, histories, and raw feeling. None is more powerful than the famous hood, which hovered uncomfortably close to the ceiling upstairs, relevant as ever. Hammons is clever, twisted, uncompromising: Like a trickster god, he masks and obfuscates to reveal deeper truths. This retrospective was the highlight of my year.

3 VARIOUS ARTISTS, HARAFIN SO (WORD OF LOVE; LITTLE AXE/SAHEL SOUNDS) I was introduced to the Hausa music of Nigeria by the album Harafin So. Made for the Bollywood-inspired film industry of the northern city of Kano, or Kannywood, this hybrid genre influenced my collection “Malik,” which traced another Afro-Indian connection—the journey of Malik Ambar, a destitute Ethiopian who became a ruler in western India in the sixteenth century. I love the immediacy of the video for Fati Niger’s track “Girma Girma” (The Great the Great), with its inventive filmmaking and the infectious joy of the group dancing by the lake.

4 AÏSSA DIONE’S HOUSE (DAKAR, SENEGAL) While in Dakar this past August, I was lucky enough to visit Dione, a textile designer with exquisite taste who has been instrumental in preserving and promoting Senegalese arts and crafts. Her beautiful, breezy home—a cool hybrid of Japanese, Parisian, and West African aesthetics, decorated with dark wooden furniture, hand-carved sculptures, and her own textiles—also serves as an exhibition space: During Dak’Art, she put on display a selection of works by local artists. The highlight, for me, was her archive of woven fabrics, the most interesting of which were the raffia-blended textiles, intricately tonal and subtle in their nuanced use of color.

5 SAMUEL FOSSO (JEAN MARC PATRAS, PARIS) The legendary Central African Republic–based photographer Fosso made some of his most iconic work when he was only a teenager. After a long day shooting local clients at his studio in Bangui, he would turn the camera on himself, snapping pictures using the remaining film at the end of each roll. The self-portraits that resulted are arresting, serving not only as imaginative reinterpretations of the style stars of the time—such as highlife music sensation Prince Nico Mbarga—but as playful investigations of individual identity. This past June, I had the opportunity to meet Fosso. His grace and gentle humor is as evident in his person as it is in his work.

Deana Lawson, Cowboys, 2014, ink-jet print mounted on Sintra, 41 × 51".

6 WILLIAM KENTRIDGE (MARTIN-GROPIUS-BAU, BERLIN; CURATED BY WULF HERZOGENRATH) Projected across eight large screens, Kentridge’s More Sweetly Play the Dance, 2015—displayed in a presentation co-organized by Berliner Festspiele—depicts an epic parade of dancing, singing, and preaching silhouettes wandering across a desolate charcoal landscape. The artist has said he means to invoke the shadows of Plato’s Cave and medieval death processions, but to me, the spiraling sound track and carnival-like performance felt like a celebration of life itself—ecstatic highs and grave lows experienced all at once as heroic, linear movement.

7 “NON-FICTION” (THE UNDERGROUND MUSEUM, LOS ANGELES; CURATED BY NOAH DAVIS) “Non-Fiction”is the second in a series of more than a dozen exhibitions conceived by Noah Davis, the late artist, curator, and founder of the innovative Underground Museum, a nonprofit space based in Arlington Heights in central LA. An exploration of history, memory, violence, and race, the show features past and new work by artists such as Hammons, Kara Walker, Henry Taylor, and Deana Lawson. There is a visceral thread that runs through the art—from an early Kerry James Marshall sculpture (As Seen on TV, 2002), an elegy to the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing, to a majestic black-box painting by Theaster Gates, whose layering of rubber, metal, roofing paper, and tar establishes a metaphor for the social construction of blackness. But the works on view also give a sense of resilience, solidarity, and dignity that is equally apparent in the space itself: The Underground Museum delivers essential insight into what galleries can be, what they need to be, and how they can engage with local communities. It is a place to contemplate the past, present, and future of blackness.

On view through March 1, 2017. Co-organized with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

8 BINYAVANGA WAINAINA (TRANSFORMATION MARATHON, SERPENTINE SACKLER GALLERY, LONDON; OCTOBER 17, 2015) After suffering what doctors called “several small strokes,” Kenyan author Wainaina composed a text he has described as seminal—an epiphany in his practice. For a presentation titled “Like Polyps or Jellyfish but Tough” at the Serpentine’s Transformation Marathon last year, he read a shortened version of this enigmatic account of experiencing—and then finding relief from—trauma. There was humor in his expression and self-awareness about his Kenyan eccentricities; his intonation gave depth to his nonlinear narrative. He sensitively captures complex emotions with unforgettable phrases: The synchronicity between his surroundings and the weather is described as “suddening into a hurricane”; his tenderness toward his male lover captured by calling him, simply, his “in love”; and his state of projected, fractured reminiscence and fragile, honest warmth perfectly summed up with the phrase “I’m feeling so almost.” Wainaina says his new work was influenced by fractals in African architecture, South African sangomas, and a youthful impatience with English literature, but I also felt echoes of African philosophy and Ben Okri’s spiritual novels and poems. His language powerfully reflects his understanding of multiple realities.

9 LYNETTE YIADOM-BOAKYE (CORVI-MORA, LONDON) These works embrace me—their scale, their warmth, the softness of the characters’ gazes. The nine paintings seemed to flow one into the next, drawing me in with their deep green hues. And let’s not forget the characters who populate them: sensitive intellectuals resting on one another, reading in the grass; a beautiful man in a black tank top posing with an owl; another with a bright yellow bird. What style they have!

10 SAMPHA PERFORMING ON THE ROOFTOP OF THE YOUNG TURKS (LONDON, MAY 6) British musician Sampha’s elevating, visceral voice has phenomenal emotional depth—he speaks his truth in a profoundly honest, human way. It was an incredible privilege to watch this intimate performance on a record label’s rooftop as the sun went down over the city.

Grace Wales Bonner is an artist and designer based in London. Her work explores black male sexuality via hybrids of European and African style. This year, Wales Bonner won the LVMH Prize. She is currently working on her next show, which will be presented at London Fashion Week in January 2017.