He was chucked out of sixth form, scraped through ‘A’ level art and has never been to art school but now former Camden schoolboy Moses Quiquine is being hailed as ‘one to watch’ with a debut exhibition that has wowed the critics.
A display of meticulously worked textiles that blur the line between fashion and art, Voodoo Child has seen the 22-year-old hold court with leading lights from the arts world, with some comparing him to Alexander McQueen for the way his work pushes at the boundaries.
“That’s such a great compliment,” says Moses with an easy smile. “McQueen is one of my favourite designers because of the way he observed nature and the passion with which he worked when making clothes. He said it was as if he were in a trance.”
‘Trance’ is a word that comes up more than once as he takes me around the exhibits, explaining their back story in his softly spoken way. The show, which opened in March at London’s Africa Centre, was inspired by his visits to sacred voodoo sites and shrines on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, where mum Chantal hails from.
“Every time I visited there it was like connecting with my ancestors and I would get this burst of creativity,” he explains. “Voodoo is a religion but it is an art form as well. You can stumble on a shrine by the beach made up of ordinary materials. It made me think of voodoo as a creative force – you take clothing, bits of animal hair and so on to create an art piece.”
His three textile sculptures rendered on goat and cow hide are just that, an intricate mix of seemingly random objects – from blue plastic shopping bags and camera film negatives to a dog’s jawbone and 1920s Chinese embroidery, with sequins and glass beading thrown in – all beautifully crafted and replete with symbolism. For Moses, the narrative they form is part of what he calls his journey through life, one that he wishes others to experience in their own way.
“My art is about connecting with a deeper part of oneself,” he states with utter solemnity.
Brought up in a Buddhist household, he walks and talks spirituality but there is also a playfulness about him, as one might expect from someone with a love for Prince and Jimi Hendrix, two other shape-shifters.
As part of a series of events accompanying the show, he has gone into what makes him tick with a number of luminaries, including the Courtauld Institute of Art’s Rebecca Arnold and former Young People’s Laureate, Caleb Femi.
Moses grew up in north London and, a keen footballer, attended Holloway School for its focus on sport. “It was later that I developed an interest in art because I once had ambitions to be an architect. I took it for GCSE and decided to go on to ‘A’ level because I really wanted to experiment.”
However, at a sought-after sixth form school in Westminster things didn’t go too well. “I didn’t really fit in. I did very well in art but was told to leave at the end of the first year because my marks were not good enough in my other subjects. Other guys did worse but got to stay. It was a really challenging moment for me.”
He went to another sixth form, where he was happier but found his teachers didn’t always appreciate his unconventional approach to art: “I only got a grade C, which was disappointing to say the least. I thought, I’m done with education and decided not to go to university. That was the best decision I made.”
His mother is the owner of a vintage couture archive and this not only influenced his flamboyant dress sense but his next step as an assistant for Harris Elliot, creator of photo show Return of the Rudeboy.
But the real breakthrough came when he was walking down the road one day in his extravagant threads. “This woman stopped me saying she loved what I was wearing. We got to talking and she said there was someone she’d like to introduce me to.”
This turned out to be 90-year-old Dennis Bruno, over the years costume designer for top West End shows like Wicked and still working out from a studio in the last remaining coal drop arches opposite St Pancras Station. He agreed to teach Moses the ropes.
“This is when I really began to create,” he recalls. “At first I just sat next to him all day observing him making costumes. Then I started to bring in some of my own pieces. While Mr Bruno worked in a very regimented way, I was much more, like, maybe I’ll grab some glue and put it all together.” He breaks into a laugh. “He would look at me and be, like, ‘You are an abomination!’. He thought my designs were unconventional, too, but he helped me along my journey, teaching me how to express my vision.”
In the midst of his informal apprenticeship, Moses was asked to make a dress for a lavish 21st birthday bash. The result was an elaborate gown made of peacock feathers, which led to other private commissions and ultimately an encounter with the show’s curator, James Putnam, senior research fellow at the London College of Fashion who applauds him as a “fresh and dramatic” young talent.
A similar gown forms the central exhibit, made from 150 year-old Worth fabric and a lot more besides, including tweed and a piece of leopard fur that he fished out from under a pile of junk at a Wimbledon boot sale.
“It is a functional piece of clothing that crosses over art and fashion in the same way that Grayson Perry uses a utilitarian object like a vase and creates a beautiful sculpture,” he explains.
Untrammelled by any institutional encumbrances, Moses speaks with the air of someone who knows what he wants and knows where he’s going. “My art is inspired by connecting with my ancestry and spiritual side and being able to express the excitement that comes from living a life,” he says, adding: “At the end of the day, I go where my art takes me.”
Voodoo Child: Identity Spirituality and Fashion ended on April 17 at the Africa Centre, Great Suffolk St, London SE1 0BL. This article first appeared in The Review on April 11, 2019