Bianca Saunders’ Black History Month exhibit is a comforting ode to the diaspora

Photography by Ronan McKenzie

Visitors moving through Fashion East designer Bianca Saunders’ Brixton Village exhibit this weekend are invited to get comfortable.

Nearness centres on familiarity tying into the themes from her recent collection and the stunning campaign shot by renowned photographer Ronan McKenzie. Taking place this weekend as a part of London’s Black History Month celebrations, the space will come to life via a film documenting a bustling Nigerian procession, vivid photography, uplifting poetry and more – all with the aim of reminding us of our shared ancestry, journeys, and traditions.

Exhibiting her curatorial prowess, Bianca’s show has brought together a new crop of creatives like the former young poet laureate Caleb Femi, eclectic filmmaker Akinola Davies Jr and artists Jazz Grant and Rochelle White.

We caught up with the designer to talk about her latest show and the importance of familiarity.

What can people expect from this exhibit, why is it vital? 

Brixton Village allowed me to split up the exhibition so that their work can be taken in and you can appreciate each of the artists individually. For example, I thought Akinola’s film Zazzau worked great to be placed on top of the village as the film worked almost as a mirror considering Brixton is constantly busy. The film captures the vibrant energy of Nigeria during the Durar Parade.

I enjoy pushing things out of the ordinary, especially because most group exhibitions are in east London. Brixton is already vibrant and has so much black culture. While it is important for fellow creatives to see the work and be inspired, it’s more special when the surrounding community can see the work as well. Whilst we were setting up it was touching to see people from the area being interested in seeing and wanted to know what the work is about. People will be really excited about what we have in store.

What is the story behind your most recent collection which you’re showing at this event?

My SS20 collection was titled Character” and it was inspired by my friend Eldon Sommers, who featured in my film, because of the power in his self-expression. His clashing dress sense often makes others question social constructs and gender boundaries, yet Eldon says he doesn’t see himself as challenging anything. [The result is] a modern take on formal dressing. 

Talk me through the striking project you did in collaboration with Ronan McKenzie for your SS20 collection.

My campaign for my SS20 collection is entitled “Yellow” and was shot by Ronan McKenzie. It features my family members and was done to help me reconnect with my Caribbean roots. Even though we are in the UK, I always have the warmth and energy of the Caribbean around me. Through things like yellow walls, commonplace in Caribbean households, it creates a stable feeling, one of comfort and familiarity.

We were also interested in the dissolution of boundaries between the interior and exterior settings that the Caribbean weather allows. Buildings are constructed from perforated white trellis allowing the elements to encroach, family tables are set up outside in the heat. Spaces become a unique collage of built and found. What interactions does this encourage between people?

What was your criteria for choosing creatives to be involved?

It was helpful to have a community of people who are accessible as they are my friends as well, some of whom I have previously collaborated with. Rochelle White’s work, titled “Roadworks” and Caleb’s “SLOG” (Secret Life of G’s) are placed together as they have a strong London connection and speak to identity and familiarity. All of them respond to the theme in their own ways.

You have a good knack for pulling together multiple mediums for your events as well great names, how did you develop your curatorial eye?

I think it’s from visiting a lot of exhibitions and working within gallery spaces. Also, the book Black Artist in British Art by Eddie Chambers made me question how art from black artists is put together. I’m more mindful of placement, not just putting artists together because of their blackness but also considering what the work speaks about. 

Nearness is open now at Brixton Village and continues until 27 October

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