The British Council announced today that artist Sonia Boyce will represent Great Britain at the Fifty-Ninth Venice Biennale, which will run from May to November 2021. Boyce, who was honored by Queen Elizabeth II for her services to art last year, will make history as the first black woman to receive the commission. Her selection comes amid an uncertain time for Britain, which is grappling with the consequences of Brexit, and the artist told The Times that the event will inevitably influence her approach to the pavilion.
“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 2021it was like a bolt out of the blue,” said Boyce, who currently serves as a professor and chair of Black Art and Design at the University of the Arts London. “Obviously, I’m extremely honored, excitedand nervous. I’m eager to start this creative journey, exploring the experience with others who agree to work with me along the way.” Boyce added that she is brainstorming ways in which more people can be involved. “There are serious questions about how people can come together, particularly when there might be tensions around differences,” Boyce told The Times. “But through art it is possible.”
Boyce came to prominence in the early 1980s. She was one of the youngest artists of her generation to have her work acquired by the Tate and became the first black woman to become a Royal Academician. Her paintings usually portray scenes of contemporary black life and have been widely exhibited in the UK and internationally. She’s had solo exhibitions at the Manchester Art Gallery (2018), the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2017), and Villa Arson, Nice (2016), among other institutions, and has participated in numerous group exhibitions, including Prospect.4 New Orleans (2017) and the Fifty-Seventh Venice Biennale (2015).
Emma Dexter, who serves as director of visual arts at the British Council, commissioner of the British pavilion, and chair of the British pavilion selection committee, said: “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.”
Boyce’s current solo exhibition at Eastside Projects, Birmingham, “In the Castle of My Skin,” will travel to Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art later this year, and a new major public art commission by the artist will soon be unveiled at Elizabeth Line, Crossrail project, London.