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Venice Biennale the first time Black Women are centre stage: British Pavilion artist Sonia Boyce wins Golden Lion prize

Venice Biennale the first time Black Women are centre stage: British Pavilion artist Sonia Boyce wins Golden Lion prize

Sonia Boyce OBE RA has won the prestigious Golden Lion award for Best National Participation at La Biennale di Venezia 2022 for her exhibition ‘Feeling Her Way’ at the British Pavilion. Boyce is the first Black women to represent Great Britain at the vaunted contemporary art show.

The artwork focuses on the vocal experimentation of five outstanding black female musicians as they embody feelings of power, freedom and vulnerability. Awarding the accolade, the jury said: “Sonia Boyce proposes … another reading of histories through the sonic. In working collaboratively with other black women, she unpacks a plenitude of silenced stories.”

01_ Artist Sonia Boyce, commissioned by the British Council for the British Pavilion 2022 – Image_ Cristiano Corte © British Council

Sonia Boyce said: 

“This is momentous, and utterly overwhelming. I want to say thank you to everyone for their support. Their generosity has been beyond my expectations. Even more so to the great team I have been fortunate to work with. The performers in Feeling Her Way – Poppy Ajudha, Jacqui Dankworth MBE, Sofia Jernberg, Tanita Tikaram and Errollyn Wallen CBE – are stunning. They connect us in ways that are joyful, soulful and necessary. Venice is living up to its reputation as the city of dreams.”

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

“As Commissioner of the British Pavilion I could not be more delighted that Sonia Boyce’s Feeling Her Way has been recognised in this way – Sonia made a work for the Biennale that speaks of hope, experiment, joy and freedom, and the importance of remembering and celebrating women’s achievements and creativity. It is also highly significant that an artist who was part of the Black British Art movement of the 1980s has been honoured in this way – thereby bringing this crucial part of British art history into an international spotlight. On behalf of the whole British Council I congratulate Sonia Boyce on this wonderful achievement!”

Sonia’s work at exhibition

Curator Emma Ridgway, (Shane Akeroyd Associate Curator) of the British Pavilion at Biennale, said: 

“It is such an honour to be the curator of Sonia Boyce’s Feeling Her Way – I am thrilled that her outstanding collaborative artistic practice has been recognised with this wonderful award. Sonia Boyce is so deserving of this accolade as her significant cultural contribution spans her work as an artist, academic and educator.”

Sonia Boyce’s British Council Commission for the British Pavilion, Feeling Her Way, immerses visitors in the collaborative dynamism of five Black female musicians (four British, one Swedish) brought together by the artist to improvise, interact and play with their voices. Colour-tinted video works take centre stage among Boyce’s signature tessellating wallpapers and golden 3-D geometric structures, which bring the audience into the work through their highly reflective surfaces. 

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Past British winners also include Richard Hamilton (1993), Anish Kapoor (1990), Frank Auerbach (1986), Bridget Riley (1968) and Henry Moore (1948). 

The British Council has been responsible for the British Pavilion at the International Art and Architecture Exhibitions of 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. A panel of visual art specialists from across the UK selected the artist for Biennale Arte 2022. 

This year the British Pavilion is made possible through the support of individuals, companies and foundations, including headline partner, Burberry.  

Sonia Boyce’s British Council Commission for the British Pavilion at the Biennale Arte Venice has drawn record crowds during preview week and runs until 27 November 2022.

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