Walking against the grain: celebrating the life of the defiant and badass Grace Jones

For over three decades, Grace Jones has done nothing less than challenge and astound.

From defying social expectations of gender (“feeling like a woman, looking like a man”) to grabbing sexism by the throat, Jones shattered dichotomies which were too weak to hold her.

Jean Paul Goude

Grace Jones is a renegade across the music, fashion and art industries who defied expectations, generating her own discourses around gender and sexuality.

While the issue is still prevalent today, Jones’ androgynous self presentation during the 1980s was frequently declared as scandalous by the media who also translated her masculinity as dangerous.

“It’s not being masculine, it’s an attitude. Being masculine, what is that? Can you tell me what is being masculine? I just act the way I feel.”

In 1985 Jones was interviewed by an Australian journalist who focused on her sexuality and questioned whether her masculinity made her a bisexual. In response, she said she does what she wants, when she feels like it and labels are limiting because anything is possible.

She then challenges the journalist with a confronting analogy: “Will you eat a cockroach if you’re hungry? If you were starving to death and that was the only thing around that would keep you alive, would you eat it?”

Jones’ legacy carries through to her presence in the art world which was associated with experimentation and nudity. Her impact was largely shaped by Jean-Paul Goude, a French photographer who would later become the father of Jones’ only child.

With the rebellious nature of Jones and the fascination of Goude, their collaborations became highlights of both their respective careers.

Fame and success across the music, art, fashion and film industries might be seen as a pyrrhic victory, as it also ignited media onslaught. In 2015, Jones published an autobiography titled I’ll Never Write My Memoirs (the title taken from the 1981 song Art Groupie).

She suggest her personal relationship with Goude was strained by his obsession with valuing her as little more than his muse.

“I became jealous and possessive of the character that, through her, I was able to create, much more than the real person,” Goude said in an interview on SHOWstudio.

Jones was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica into a family of ministers and lived with pious grandparents before joining her parents in NYC in her teenage years. In an interview with The Guardian, she says she lacked a comfortable childhood and she and her siblings were victims of their physical and psychological abuse.

grace jones birthday vivid sydney
Photo: Vivid Sydney

Although she decided to never do an album again, Jones released Hurricane  in 2008, 19 years after her last studio and continues to play in festivals around the world, even coming to Vivid Sydney.

Throughout her career, Jones was arguably celebrated in the media as much as her commentators were confused by her.

There is no denying she had an impact in more than just the music, arts, fashion and film industries, as she unforgivingly (and perhaps unintentionally) influenced discourse on gender, sexuality and identity forever.