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Bianca Saunders SS20 Campaign 1
Bianca Saunders SS20 CampaignPhotography Ronan McKenzie

Bianca Saunders enlists her family to star in her new Brixton exhibition

The London designer’s mum, brother, and cousins all feature in ‘Nearness’, alongside works by Akinola Davies, Ronan McKenzie, and Caleb Femi

Since graduating from the Royal College of Art back in 2018, Bianca Saunders has made a significant mark on the London fashion scene. Her designs, which are based on the exploration of surrounding identities and her British-West Indian heritage, mix street and sportswear elements with more refined, tailored pieces. 

Now, following on from 2017’s Personal Politics exhibition, the young designer is back with a new show, entitled Nearness. Exploring themes of familiarity, her latest project is centred around the “state of bordering, or being in contact with something,” and delves into the things we lean towards, the idea of home, and the “feeling of being connected and in tune with your surroundings”. 

The exhibition is set to open in Brixton Village, a decision which Saunders saw as something integral as a South London native herself. “It was important to create events in the area instead of coveting art and creativity for a gentrified society. Accessibility is important, we need to reach a broader audience, not just creative folk,” she explains.  

Teaming up with Dazed 100-ers including filmmaker Akinola Davis Jnr and poet laureate Caleb Femi, the exhibition will also feature work from designer Jazz Grant, artist Rochelle White, and photographer Ronan McKenzie. “Each artist’s interpretation of the theme stands solo to their own perspective but merges brilliantly,” Saunders says. Also on show will be her SS20 campaign, as shot by McKenzie, which features a number of members of her own family. 

Here, we talk to the designer about her exploration of identity, the accessibility of art, and the symbolism of Nike Air Forces.

What was the inspiration behind the theme of familiarity?

Bianca Saunders: I was analysing the area of Brixton and how the district resonates with my background – being of Jamaican heritage. Brixton is heavily rooted in Afro-Caribbean heritage. Going to Brixton and spending my life in South London makes me feel at home. That is the core influence of the exhibition.

How did the idea for the exhibition come about?

Bianca Saunders: I think it is important for me, being from the South London community, to create events in the area instead of making art and creativity for a gentrified society. It should be for everyone. Similar to Es Devlin and the Chanel Exhibition, Devlin brought the exhibit to Peckham in 2016. Accessibility is important, we need to reach a broader audience, not just creative folk.

What was the process of creating it?

Bianca Saunders: Brixton Village proposed that I curate an exciting exhibition to showcase innovative talent. I approached the artists that really resonated with me and the work that I do. Everyone included fitted the concept so well and I wanted to showcase them all.

“We want to celebrate the creatives who are black, producing work that's not only powerful but connects with the viewer” – Bianca Saunders

Both you and the artists you are working with explore the black experience in different ways. How will this all come together for the show?

Bianca Saunders: The work on show explores the concepts surrounding connection and familiarity present in their work, and we really wanted to celebrate the creatives who are black and producing work that's not only powerful but connects with the viewer. I think the experience will be so beneficial to the audience, to see a variety of multi-disciplinary art forms, and it will bring light to the artists’ talents fully. 

Can you talk us through some of the the works which will be shown?

Bianca Saunders: Rochelle (White) is showing a film called Roadworks (2019), which is a response to Mona Hatoum’s 1985 work of the same name. It is a documented performance piece which follows the artist on a journey from Brixton’s Gresham Police station to Peckham’s bus garage, symbolising the Nike Air Force trainer as a marker of our personal and nuanced experiences, joys, and pains. Caleb Femi, whose work relates to inner-city life and identity, is showing a film called Secret life of Gs, while Akinola’s work is an installation which will stand alone in its own space. Jazz Grant’s main craft is fashion design, but she will be showcasing mixed media collage work. 

Are the influences that inform your designs present in the exhibition?

Bianca: No – the exhibition has much more to do with identity and connecting. The project that Ronan and I will be showing is quite personal to me putting my family in focus, centring my vulnerability. Whilst shooting the project it was so beautiful to see my family fully understanding what I do, including my brother who is the youngest member. The rest are my cousins from both sides of my family. My mum is a hairdresser, so naturally she did the hair for the shoot. George Lewin did the set design, the idea of the yellow walls was inspired by my SS20 research, a particular image by Deana Lawson which portrays two girls posed on a bed. Another huge influence was Barkley Hendricks’ paintings, they’re so great!

What else are you working on at the moment?

Bianca: I have a very busy period towards the end of the year, but I love it! It’s great that I have the opportunity to be involved in projects outside of fashion, but equally related to my brand. Currently, I am working on my AW20 collection which will be my fourth show during LFWM – a hint to the concept would be culture and memory.

Nearness opens at Brixton Village on October 25 and runs until October 27.