Ibrahim Kamara, Kristin-Lee Moolman and Gareth Wrighton bring a new dynasty to Red Hook Labs

“The whole show is like a movie we've kind of created but we're never going to make – that's how I see Soft Criminal. Hopefully people can experience it through the images, costumes and sculptures.” Sierra-Leonean stylist Ibrahim Kamara is talking to us about his forthcoming exhibition with South African photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman and British designer Gareth Wrighton. Opening 12 September at Brooklyn’s Red Hook Labs, Soft Criminal is the first large-scale collaboration between the three artists and, in keeping with their boundary-pushing manner, it is so much more than an exhibition.

A mixed media show fusing out-of-this-world visuals, artworks and fashion, it’s set in a fantastical world where three rival clans are at war. “We have the old money – the dynasty, the kings and the queens. We have the new money - our generation who are coming into money. And we have the not-in-it-for-the-money – the anarchists who are out to be very disruptive,” Kamara explains. In this crumbling empire we encounter a disgraced ruler, forbidden love, a political coup, an anarchic warlord, and the struggle between ancient and future powers. Imagine a Shakespeare play with the best clothing ever, which will be presented on the opening night as a live fashion show.

Frequent collaborators, Wrighton and Kamara met while studying at Central St Martins and Kamara has continued to use the designer’s pieces in his celebrated styling work for the likes of i-D and Dazed. While Kamara and Moolman have joined forces on all manner of projects, with their work exhibited in MoMA’s Items: Is Fashion Modern, Somerset House’s Utopian Voices Here & Now, and Stance at Tate Britain, teaming up with Wrighton to produce the accompanying zine. And of course Moolman is no stranger to Red Hook Labs, the photographer’s work first hung in the gallery as part of Nataal’s debut New African Photography show in 2016.

“Once you live in a fantasy world, ideas are endless and there are no rules within those spaces”

Taking inspiration from their personal experiences, Soft Criminal also reflects on the world at large today. “I mean we have Donald Trump, we have the English monarchy and we have the social media generation who are now wealthy due to new fame and new money,” Kamara reflects. Setting the show in a made-up world has allowed the narrative to be taken further. “Characters are pushed and given storylines that are a little bit unrealistic in real life. It made it easier for us to go beyond what you would see at a normal fashion show or art installation,” he continues. “Once you live in a fantasy world, ideas are endless and there are no rules, or right and wrong, within those spaces… Each character has a bit of all of our backgrounds in them, which I think is what makes the show special - it's three experiences in one.”

Anchored in the story dreamt up by the trio, each of the 22 couture looks have been designed with a particular character in mind. Working with craftsmen in Johannesburg – where the images were shot and Moolman is based – the pieces have been over a year and a half in the making using raw silk as well as recycled fabrics and plastics. “It will have the energy of a catwalk collection, but a lot more depth has gone into it and we would like to think of them more as sculptural works of art than costumes,” he says. “I hope that people get a bit of joy from the show. If they can experience both reality and fantasy at the same time, then I think it has done what it's supposed to do.”

Soft Criminal is on view at Red Hook Labs, Brooklyn, from 12 to 23 September 2018


Words Miriam Bouteba
Photography Kristin-Lee Moolman

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Published on 07/09/2018