Art SheCan

Making History: Sonia Boyce OBE RA becomes First Black Woman to represent Great Britain at Venice Biennale since 1895

The London-based artist Boyce who rose to prominence in the 1980s as one of the leading lights in art, will represent Great Britain at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia in 2021. The exhibition will run from May – November 2021 and will feature a major solo exhibition of new work from the artist. (© Portrait of Sonia Boyce by Paul Cochrane, courtesy of UAL, 2013).

The artist will be the first black woman to represent Britain at the prestigious show and the third black artist to have a solo exhibition in its decades-long history, following Chris Ofili and Steve McQueen. It was founded in 1895, For the very first Venice Biennale, 21 British artists were invited to exhibit in the English room in the Central Pavilion (as the British Pavilion hadn’t yet been created)

Boyce is known for her highly innovative and experimental approach to art-making, using performance and audio-visual elements in her work. Her works have questioned what means to be black in a largely white, patriarchal society. 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.

On accepting the British Council commission, Sonia Boyce commented:

“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 honored, 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.”

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 the UK 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.

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. This post will be generously supported by Shane Akeroyd and offers mid-career curators a unique professional opportunity to work with a leading British artist on a global platform.

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