by JC Gonzo
Severe bangs, voluptuous form, and dark iconography mark the signature look of the Jamaica-born/London-based model Tessa Kuragi. Elusive and exotic with a British, Asian, and Jamaican heritage, Kuragi’s fearless style has quickly drawn fascination and curiosity outside niche scenes. She recently appeared in Diesel’s SS14 campaign with Brooke Candy along with features from GQ, Juxtapoz, and PURPLE magazine. Kuragi’s daring collaborations with erotic auteurs like Ellen von Unwerth and Marc Blackie have lead to her own special brand of surrealist sensuality. Kuragi’s sophisticated edge lies somewhere between couture and high art with a playful Instagram feed featuring unpredictable looks and a first-person glance at the various contemporary art fairs she frequents. We were curious about the model’s unique tastes and what drove her to become an avant-garde muse:
Any artists, eras, or music influence your approach?
TK: Too many to list and from varied forms but to give a flavour: Writers like J. G. Ballard, Henry Miller, Vonnegut and Jean Rhys – the book Crash for instance was hugely influential on my view of eroticism and fetishism among other areas. Photographers like Araki Nobuyushi, Helmut Newton, Gilles Berquet—the latter who I work with as much as possible—I am happy to be on the cover of his most recent book Hide and Seek available at the Museum of Modern Art PS1 gallery this month. Film makers such as Koji Wakamatsu and Bunuel. Performance artists like Suka Off, Keira O’Reilly and Franko B. Ero Guro manga artists, the depressive position, aquatic life. I have a strong affinity to the surrealist movement and the Japanese ‘pink movie’ genre.
When you work with a photographer, is it a collaborative experience?
TK: Yes—nearly always—but then again could it ever not be this way? Unless you’re devoid of personality or have severe social communication disorder there will be some level of interaction and thus collaboration between model and photographer. I suppose with me, compared to a typical agency fashion model for instance, the level of collaboration is more explicit. I quite often like to come up with ideas for a shoot with a photographer from the start and create something that reflects a shared vision. I probably get chosen for shoots a lot based on my ‘character,’ as opposed to simply my appearance—and I like that.
Did you begin modeling set out to cultivate a unique style or did you discover it along the way?
TK: I had no formed direction or end game in mind when I started modeling—it was a much more unconscious and instinctive process. I contacted photographers whose work I was drawn to and asked if I could sit for them. The first two I approached were Marc Blackie and Alva Bernadine, who are in some ways very different photographers—Alva’s work being very colourful and Bourdin-esque and Marc’s very dark and reminiscent of old-school Japanese films—but their nods to surrealism and subverted (or perverted?) erotica was a big draw. I used modeling as a way to explore my own unconscious and sexuality in this new strange city where, being mix raced and from a tiny island, I had a difficult time finding a place. My style therefore is just a reflection of my persona—and I guess unique as I’ve always been the ‘weirdo’ (or ‘warped ball’ as a friend recently called me.)
Were you ever discouraged from honing the look you’re known for today?
TK: I think my mum was a bit shocked by my change from tanned skinned tropical island beauty to a more sultry pallid looking creature and she doesn’t approve of me wearing Japanese seifukus as often as I do, but apart from that most people like it. I wear a great deal of black and often get the odd ‘why are you always in black’ comment to which I reply: ‘why is your face always full of 1 inch thick make up’ or some variation on that.
What’s on the horizon?
TK: I am working bringing my subversive work to more (popular) Fashion channels. Ideally, I want to explore working with clothes to create imagery that has more depth than just a simple snapshot of a season trend. I think it’s interesting that there seems to be a growing movement and acceptance of models who have more strings to their bow than just their physical appearance. I would also like to do more acting—specifically in film—the more difficultly themed and bizarre the better.