Sonia Boyce OBE RA has announced Hauser & Wirth and Apalazzo Gallery in Italy will now represent the artist. Boyce’s former gallery Simon Lee, London went into joint administration and has remained closed since a notice was placed in the window of the shuttered gallery in Berkeley Square. The gallery is still trading in Hong Kong.
Over the course of four decades, Sonia Boyce OBE RA has developed a powerfully original practice that transcends boundaries as an interdisciplinary artist and academic working across film, photography, print, sound and installation. Boyce creates immersive and experiential spaces that explore themes of play, disruption and revelation in which the audience become active participants. Boyce’s practice today is focused on questions of artistic authorship and cultural difference. She continues to break new ground through her commitment to questioning the production and reception of unexpected gestures, with an underlying interest in the intersection of personal and political subjectivities. In 2022, Boyce presented ‘Feeling Her Way’, commissioned for the British Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition—La Biennale di Venezia for which she was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation.
In 1980, Boyce completed a foundation course in art and design at East Ham College of Art and Technology, London, and in 1983, she received a BA in fine art from the former Stourbridge College in Stourbridge, England. During her time at Stourbridge College, Boyce attended the First National Black Art Convention at the nearby Wolverhampton Polytechnic. It was here that the artist would meet peers Lubaina Himid and Claudette Johnson, and become part of the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s. Her large-scale pastel works from this brief period depicted domestic scenes from Afro-Caribbean life in the UK, drawing on Boyce’s personal experiences from her family and childhood. Foregrounding her own experience, works such as ‘Missionary Position II’ (1985) and ‘She Ain’t Holding Them Up, She’s Holding On (Some English Rose)’ (1986), explore questions of identity, race and cultural difference, themes, along with self-narration, that would continue to inform her career.
Boyce moved away from self-representation soon after and embraced an increasingly conceptual, social art practice. Utilising a range of media including photography, video and installation, her work developed into a collaborative mode of working, engaging with the audience in playful yet provocative situations. Despite this shift in method, issues of the body would remain central at this stage. In the early 90s, the artist began buying and collecting hair from Afro-Caribbean hair shops, which she turned into a series of 50 small, handheld sculptures from her Do You Want to Touch? series, objects that Boyce describes as ‘fragments of the African diasporic body’. Questions of the Black body as ‘other’ are also explored in the photographic installation work ‘The Audition’ (1997), in which Boyce invited members of the public to be photographed wearing a costume afro wig.
Since 1990, Boyce has been closely collaborating with other artists, frequently involving one- off improvisations and spontaneous performative actions made by the collaborators. Key works in subsequent decades include Boyce’s filmed improvisational performance ‘For you, only you’ (2007) that brought together a choir singing a piece of 15th-century sacred music and the artist Mikhail Karikis, who communicates with the choir in a series of non-verbal stutters and guttural vocalisations. In later works such as ‘We Move in Her Way’ (2017), the artist combines improvisational sound and movement performances from Elaine Mitchener and Barbara Gamper. Boyce documents these improvised encounters without intervening, and later constructs them into immersive multi-media installations.
For her latest installation work, ‘Feeling Her Way’ (2022), part of her presentation for the British Pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale, Boyce recorded five intergenerational Black female musicians interacting, improvising and playing with their voices, exploring the notion of what it means to be free. As Boyce says of her interest in exploring social dynamics, ‘I’m more interested in human responses than anything else…how to learn, how to listen, how to watch things and be in it; not be separate from it, not to have a kind of arm’s length relation to what might be unfolding with other people.’ The work expands on Boyce’s ‘Devotional Collection’, an ongoing archive project begun in 1999 which celebrates and brings into focus Black British female musicians, many of whom have been underacknowledged. The project has featured in exhibitions including a retrospective of Boyce’s work at Manchester Art Gallery in 2018.
For nearly forty years, Boyce has consistently worked within the art school context where she has made invaluable contributions to reshape the discourse of art through her work as an academic. Since 2014 she has been a Professor at University of the Arts London, where she holds the inaugural Chair in Black Art & Design. A three-year research project into Black Artists and Modernism culminated with the 2018 BBC Four documentary ‘Whoever Heard of a Black Artist?’, exploring the contribution of overlooked artists of African and Asian descent to the story of Modern British art. She holds three honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Art (2019), the Courtauld Institute of Art and Birmingham City University (2023), and an honorary fellowship from Norwich University of Arts (2022).
Boyce’s work is held in the collections of Tate, London, UK; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; Arts Council Collection, London, UK; The Government Art Collection, London, UK; British Council Collection, London, UK and Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, UK.
Boyce has been the recipient of numerous awards. In 2019, the artist received an OBE for services to art in the Queen’s New Year Honours List. In 2016, Boyce was elected a Royal Academician, and received a Paul Hamlyn Artist Award. Between 2012 and 2017, Boyce was Professor of Fine Art at Middlesex University and since 2014 she has been Professor at the University of the Arts London. As the inaugural Chair of Black Art & Design she led on a three-year research project into Black Artists & Modernism, which led to a BBC documentary Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain’s Hidden Art History (2018).
Top Photo: Sonia Boyce Photo: Parisa Taghizadeh © Sonia Boyce. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2023 Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth