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Sonia Boyce to Represent the UK at the 59th Venice Biennale

Sonia Boyce to Represent the UK at the 59th Venice Biennale


Sonia Boyce OBE RA will represent Great Britain at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, the first black woman to represent the country at the world’s most prestigious art  exhibition. The artist will be presenting a major solo exhibition of new work, running May to November 2021.

Sonia Boyce OBE RA came to prominence as a key figure in the burgeoning Black-British art scene of the early 1980s. She was one of the youngest artists of her generation to have her work acquired by Tate, featuring deeply personal reflections on race, class and gender in Britain.

You could have knocked me down with a feather when I got the call to tell me I had been chosen to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale 2021 – it was like a bolt out of the blue. Obviously, I’m extremely honoured, excited – and nervous. I’m eager to start this creative journey, exploring the experience with others who agree to work with me along the way” said Sonia Boyce on accepting the British Council commission.

Boyce is known for her highly innovative and experimental approach to art-making, using performance, drawing, print, photography, and audio-visual elements in her work. Since the 1990s, her practice has become increasingly improvisational and collaborative, inviting a broad cross-section of participants to come together and speak, sing or move in relation to the past and the present. At the heart of Boyce’s work is an empowering exploration of gestures and events, with an underlying focus on the personal and political subjectivities behind them.

Boyce has taken part in numerous solo and group exhibitions, both internationally and in the UK. Notable recent exhibitions have included solo shows at Manchester Art Gallery (2018), The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London (2017), Villa Arson, Nice (2016), and group exhibitions including Prospect 4, New Orleans (2017), and All the World’s Futures, 56th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, Venice (2015).  Her current solo exhibition, In the Castle of My Skin, at Eastside Projects, Birmingham will travel to Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art later this year. 2020 will also see the completion of a major public art commission by Boyce for the Elizabeth Line, Crossrail project, London. 

In 2016, Boyce was elected a Royal Academician, and in the same year received a Paul Hamlyn Artist Award. In 2019, she received an OBE for Services to Art in the Queen’s New Year Honours List, as well as an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal College of Art. Boyce is currently a Professor at University of the Arts London, where she holds the inaugural Chair in Black Art & Design. 

A panel of visual art specialists from across the UK selected the artist for Biennale Arte 2021. The committee members included:

Emma Dexter, British Council Director Visual Arts, Commissioner of the British Pavilion and Chair of the British Pavilion Selection Committee, said: 

“The British Council is thrilled to announce that Sonia Boyce has been commissioned to represent Great Britain at the Biennale Arte 2021. We are eagerly anticipating her exhibition, where collaboration, improvisation and dialogue will undoubtedly play a key role. Boyce’s work raises important questions about the nature of creativity, questioning who makes art, how ideas are formed, and the nature of authorship. At such a pivotal moment in the UK’s history, the Committee has chosen an artist whose work embodies inclusiveness, generosity, experimentation and the importance of working together”. 

The British Council has been responsible for the British Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia since 1937, showcasing the best of the UK’s artists, architects, designers and curators. These exhibitions, and the British Council’s Venice Fellowships initiative introduced in 2016, help make the British Pavilion a major platform for discussion about contemporary art and architecture.

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The artist commissioned to represent Great Britain at the Biennale Arte is selected by an advisory panel of leading visual arts professionals, from across the UK. The panel membership changes for every edition of the Biennale. The panel selecting the artist for 2021 was chaired by Emma Dexter, Director of Visual Arts at the British Council, and included: Irene Aristizábal, Head of Curatorial and Public Practice, BALTIC, Gateshead, Beth Bate – Director, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Mary Cremin – Director, Void Gallery, Derry, Northern Ireland, Elvira Dyangani Ose – Director, The Showroom, London, David Hevey – Director, Shape Arts CEO & Artistic Director, Alistair Hudson – Director, The Whitworth and Manchester Art Gallery Hammad Nasar, Senior Research Fellow, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Nicholas Thornton – Head of Fine Art, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

Later this year, the British Council will appoint an Associate Curator to work alongside Sonia Boyce and the British Council team to develop the exhibition.

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. British Council work’s with over 100 countries in the fields of arts and culture, English language, education and civil society. Last year it reached over 80 million people directly and 791 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. Founded in 1934 British Council is a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body.

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