Grace Before Jones: Camera, Disco, Studio – is the exciting new exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary, which paints a portrait of an unapologetic artist who defies easy categorisation.
Grace Before Jones: Camera, Disco, Studio – curated by Cédric Fauq with Olivia Aherne – is a cross between fan-fiction, study and biography. Early on we see Jones lensed by Anthony Barboza for Essence in 1971, sandwiched between psychedelic soul band The Chamber Brothers, wearing a purple brocade shirt with leather pants and big silver jewellery around her waist and neck. Her afro is full and big, her face glossy. Pinned opposite are four pages of model headshots from the Black Beauty Agency (set up by Betty Forray and Dee Gipson in the 1960s) yet Grace who was briefly signed up is notable by her absence, let go after a month because her face ‘didn’t fit’ the Black beauty standards of the time. This rebuttal only bolstered her plan to develop her own unique brand of being: “I didn’t want to be thought of as ‘Black’ and certainly not as ‘negro’, because I instinctively felt that was a box I would be put in that would control me. I didn’t want to be fixed as anything specific … I wanted to be invisible, unmarked, too elusive to be domesticated.”
The show, at Nottingham Contemporary until January, concludes with Catherine McGann’s photograph of her leaving St. Patrick’s Cathedral after Andy Warhol’s memorial in 1987. Aherne says: “In that final section, which we have called ‘Curtain Call’, is a moment we pause on the Aids crisis to recognise that Grace lost a lot of her collaborators. But she is still very much alive and making music, so it’s not the end.” Throughout the show she remains a paradox, an unsolved puzzle of beauty and bacchanalia, a refreshing rebuttal of categorisation and conformity.