Sonia Boyce

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Sonia Boyce

Sonia Dawn Boyce

1962 (age 58–59)
London, England
Alma materStourbridge College
MovementUK Black Arts Movement

Sonia Dawn Boyce, OBE RA (born 1962),[1] is a British Afro-Caribbean artist, living and working in London. She is a Professor of Black Art and Design at University of the Arts London.[2] Boyce's research interests explore art as a social practice and the critical and contextual debates that arise from this area of study. With an emphasis on collaborative work, Boyce has been working closely with other artists since 1990, often involving improvisation and spontaneous performative actions on the part of her collaborators. Boyce's work involves a variety of media, such as drawing, print, photography, video, and sound. Her art explores "the relationship between sound and memory, the dynamics of space, and incorporating the spectator[3]". To date, Boyce has taught Fine Art studio practice for more than thirty years in several art colleges across the UK.[3]

In February 2020 Boyce was selected by the British Council to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale 2022. She will be the first black woman to do so.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Islington, London, in 1962, Boyce attended Eastlea Comprehensive School in Canning Town, East London, from 1973 to 1979.[5] From 1979 to 1980 she completed a Foundation Course in Art & Design at East Ham College of Art and Technology and she completed a BA in Fine Art at Stourbridge College from 1980 to 1983 in the West Midland.[5][6]


Boyce works with a range of media including photography, installation and text.[6] She gained prominence as part of the Black British cultural renaissance of the 1980s.[7][8] Her work also references feminism.[9] Roy Exley (2001) has written: "The effect of her work has been to re-orientate and re-negotiate the position of Black or Afro-Caribbean art within the cultural mainstream."[10]

An early exhibition in which she participated was in 1983 at the Africa Centre, London, entitled Five Black Women. Boyce's early works were large chalk-and-pastel drawings depicting friends, family and childhood experiences. Drawing from her background she often included depictions of wallpaper patterns and bright colours associated with the Caribbean. Through this work the artist examined her position as a black woman in Britain and the historical events in which that experience was rooted.[11] She also took part in the 1983 exhibition Black Women Time Now.[12]

In 1989, she was a part of a group of four female artists who created an exhibition called "The Other Story," which was the first display of British African, Caribbean, and Asian Modernism.[13]

In her later works Boyce used diverse media including digital photography to produce composite images depicting contemporary black life. Although her focus is seen to have shifted away from specific ethnic experiences, her themes continue to be the experiences of a black woman living in a white society, and how religion, politics and sexual politics made up that experience.[11]

Boyce was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List 2007, for services to art.[14] On 9 March 2016, Boyce was elected as a member of the Royal Academy.[15]

In 2016, Boyce became a Royal Academician, a society in England created by George III for artists and designers.[13]

In 2018, as part of a retrospective exhibition by Boyce at Manchester Art Gallery, she was invited by the curators of the gallery to make new work in dialogue with the collection's 18th- and 19th-century galleries, for which Boyce invited performance artists to engage with these works in these galleries in, as the artists has said, 'a non-binary way'. As part of one of these events the artists decided to temporarily remove J. W. Waterhouse's painting Hylas and the Nymphs from the gallery wall, prompting a wide discussion of issues of censorship and curatorial decision-making, interpretation and judgement, by gallery audiences and in the media.[16]

Boyce has taught widely and uses workshops as part of her creative process, and her works can be seen in many national collections.[17] Boyce's works are held in the collections of Tate Modern,[18] Victoria & Albert Museum, the Government Art Collection,[19] British Council and the Arts Council Collection at Southbank Centre.

In 2018 she was the subject of the BBC Four documentary film Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain's Hidden Art History, in which Brenda Emmanus followed Boyce as she traveled the UK following the history of black artists and modernism. Boyce led a team in preparing an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery that focused on artists of African and Asian descent who have played a part in shaping the history of British art.[20][21][13]

She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2019 New Year Honours for services to art.[22]

It was announced in February 2020 that Boyce had been selected as the first black woman to represent the United Kingdom at the 2021 59th annual Venice Biennale. She was chosen by the British Council and will produce a major solo exhibition. The British Council's director of visual arts, Emma Dexter, claimed Boyce’s inclusive and powerful work will be a perfect selection for this significant time in UK history. Boyce first attended the Biennale in 2015, she was a part of curator Okwui Enwezor’s "All the World’s Features" exhibition. [13][23]


In her early artistic years Boyce used chalk and pastel to make drawings of her friends, family and herself. She graduated later to incorporate photography, graphic design, film, and caricature to convey very political messages within her work. The incorporation of collage allowed her to explore more complex pieces. It is important to note Boyce's utilization of caricature within her work. The caricature is historically meant to showcase exaggerated features of individuals. They are often grotesque and can incite negative perceptions of their subjects. By using caricatures, Boyce allows herself to reclaim them in her own image.[24]


Boyce's work is politically affiliated. She utilizes a variety of mediums within the same work to convey messages revolving around black representation, perceptions of the black body and pervasive notions that arose from scientific racism. Within her bodies of work, Boyce works to convey the personal isolation that results from being black in a white society. In her work she explores notions of the Black Body as the "other". Commonly, she uses collage to convey a body of art that incites a complicated history. Boyce rose as a prominent artist in the 1980s when the Black Cultural Renaissance took place. The movement arose out of opposition to Thatcher's brand of conservatism and her cabinet's policies. Using this societal backdrop, Boyce takes conventional narratives surrounding the black body and turns it upside down. Through her art she conveys a hope to overturn ethnographic notions of race that pervaded throughout slavery and after the slaves had been emancipated.[24]




  • Five Black Women, Africa Centre, London (1983)
  • Black Woman Time Now, Battersea Arts Centre, London (1983)
  • Strip Language, Gimpel Fils, London (1984)
  • Into The Open, Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield (1984)
  • Heroes And Heroines, The Black-Art Gallery, London (1984)
  • Room At The Top, Nicola Jacobs Gallery, London (1985)
  • Blackskins/Bluecoat, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool (1985)[5]
  • Celebrations/Demonstrations, St Matthews Meeting Place, London (1985)[5]
  • No More Little White Lies, Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff (1985)[5]
  • Reflections, Riverside Studios, London (1985)[5]
  • The Thin Black Line, ICA, London (1985)[5]
  • From Generation To Generation, Black Art Gallery, London (1985)[5]
  • Some Of Us Are Brave – All Of Us Are Strong, Black Art Gallery London (1986)
  • Unrecorded Truths, Elbow Room, London (1986)
  • From Two Worlds, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1986)
  • Caribbean Expressions In Britain, Leicestershire Museum and Art Gallery (1986)
  • Basel Art Fair, Switzerland (1986)
  • State Of The Art, ICA, London (1986)
  • A Cabinet Of Drawings, Gimpel Fils, London (1986)
  • The Image Employed – The Use Of Narrative In Black Art, Cornerhouse, Manchester (1987)
  • Critical Realism, Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery (1987)
  • Basel Art Fair, Switzerland (1987)
  • Royal Overseas League, London (1987)
  • The Essential Black Art, Chisenhale Gallery, London (1988)
  • The Impossible Self, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg (1988)
  • The Thatcher Years, Angela Flowers Gallery, London (1988)
  • Fashioning Feminine Identities, University of Essex, Colchester (1988)
  • Along The Lines of Resistance, Cooper Art Gallery, Barnsley (1988)
  • The Wedding, Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield (1989)
  • The Other Story, Hayward Gallery, London (1989)
  • The Cuban Biennale, Wifredo Lam Cultural Centre, Havana (1989)
  • The British Art Show, McLellan Galleries, Glasgow (1990)
  • Distinguishing Marks, University of London (1990)
  • The Invisible City, Photographers Gallery, London (1990)
  • Black Markets, Cornerhouse, Manchester (1990)
  • Delfina Open Studios, London (1991)
  • Shocks To The System, South Bank Centre, London (1991)
  • Delfina Annual Summer Show, London (1991)
  • An English Summer, Palazzo della Crepadona, Belluna, Italy (1991)
  • Photo Video, Photographers Gallery, London (1991)
  • Delfina Annual Summer Show, London (1992)
  • White Noise, IKON Gallery, Birmingham (1992)
  • Northern Adventures, Camden Arts Centre and St Pancras Station, London (1992)
  • Nosepaint Artist Club, London (1992)
  • Innocence And Experience, Manchester City Art Galleries (1992)
  • New England Purpose Built: Long Distance Information, Real Art Ways, Hartford, USA (1993)
  • Thinking Aloud, Small Mansions Art Centre, London (1994)
  • Wish You Were Here, BANK, London (1994)
  • Glass Vitrine, INIVA Launch, London (1994)
  • Free Stories, LA Galerie, Frankfurt (1995)
  • Portable Fabric Shelters, London Printworks Trust, London (1995)
  • Fetishism, Brighton Museum, Brighton (1995)
  • Mirage, ICA, London (1995)
  • Photogenetic, Street Level, Glasgow (1995)
  • Cottage Industry, Beaconsfield, London (1995)
  • Picturing Blackness in British Art, Tate, London (1996)
  • Kiss This, Focalpoint Gallery, Southend (1996)[5]
  • Video Positive: the Other Side of Zero, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool (2000)[15]
  • New Woman Narratives, World-Wide Video Festival, Amsterdam (2000)[15]
  • Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis, Tate Modern, London (2001)[15]
  • Sharjah International Biennial: 7, Sharjah (2005)
  • Menschen und Orte, Kunstverein Konstanz, Konstanz (2008)[15]
  • Praxis: Art in Times of Uncertainty, Thessaloniki Biennal 2, Greece (2009)[15]
  • Afro Modern: Journeys through the Black Atlantic, Tate Liverpool and tour (2010)[15]
  • Walls Are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (2010)[25]
  • Griot Girlz: Feminist Art and the Black Atlantic, Kunstlerhaus Büchenhausen, Innsbruck (2010)[15]
  • ¡Afuera! Art in Public Spaces, Centro Cultural España/Cordoba, Argentina (2010)
  • 8+8 Contemporary International Video Art, 53 Museum, Guangzhou (2011)[15]
  • The Impossible Community, Moscow Museum of Modern Art (2011)[15]
  • Coming Ashore, Berardo Collection Museum/P-28 Container Project, Lisbon (2011)[15]
  • Black Sound White Cube, Kunstquartier Bethanien, Berlin (2011)
  • Migrations: Journeys into British Art, Tate Britain (2012)
  • There is no archive in which nothing gets lost, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2012)[26]
  • Play! Re-capturing the Radical Imagination, Göteborg International Biennial of Contemporary Art 7 (2013)[15]
  • Keywords, Rivington Place, London (2013)
  • Speaking in Tongues, CCA, Glasgow (2014)[27]
  • All the World's Futures, 56th Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art, Venice (2015)[15]
  • No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960–1990, Guildhall Art Gallery, London (2015–16)[28]

Research positions[edit]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Gilane Tawadros, Sonia Boyce: Speaking in Tongues, London: Kala Press, 1997.
  • Annotations 2/Sonia Boyce: Performance (ed. Mark Crinson, Iniva – the Institute of International Visual Arts, 1998)
  • In 2007, Boyce, David A. Bailey and Ian Baucom jointly received the History of British Art Book Prize (USA) for the edited volume Shades of Black: Assembling Black Art in 1980s Britain, published by Duke University Press in collaboration with Iniva and AAVAA.
  • Allison Thompson, "Sonia Boyce and Crop Over", Small Axe, Volume 13, Number 2, 2009.[3]
  • Like Love, Spike Island, Bristol, and tour (ed. Axel Lapp; Berlin: Green Box Press, 2010)[3][33]


  1. ^ Phaidon Editors (2019). Great Women Artists. Phaidon Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0714878775.
  2. ^ Banks, Tom (3 January 2014). "UAL appoints nine new cross-university heads". Design Week.
  3. ^ a b c d e Boyce, Sonia. "Professor Sonia Boyce: TrAIN Member". Transnational. University of the Arts London. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  4. ^ Sanderson, David (12 February 2020). "Sonia Boyce becomes first black woman to represent Britain at Venice Biennale". The Times. Retrieved 12 February 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Tawadros, Gilane. (1997). Sonia Boyce : speaking in tongues. Boyce, Sonia, 1962-. London: Kala Press. ISBN 0947753095. OCLC 40180489.
  6. ^ a b Fortnum, Rebecca (2007), Contemporary British Women Artists: In Their Own Words, I.B.Tauris, p. 113. ISBN 1-84511-224-5.
  7. ^ Owusu, Kwesi (1999), Black British Culture and Society: A Text-Reader, Routledge, p. 4. ISBN 0-415-17846-0.
  8. ^ "Critical Decade: Black British Photography in the 80s", Ten.8 vol. 2, no. 3, 1992.
  9. ^ Phelan, Peggy, and Helena Reckitt (2001), Art and Feminism. London: Phaidon.
  10. ^ Exley, Roy (1 November 2001). "Sonia Boyce Artists Talking". a-n The Artists Information Company. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  11. ^ a b Oxford Art Online,
  12. ^ Niru Ratnam (2002). "Black Women Time Now". In Alison Donnell (ed.). Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture. Routledge. p. 127. ISBN 978-1-134-70024-0.
  13. ^ a b c d Rea, Naomi (12 February 2020), "Artist Sonia Boyce Will Be the First Black Woman to Represent the UK at the Venice Biennale", Artnet.
  14. ^ "Birthday honours: London list", BBC News, 16 June 2007. Retrieved 6 September 2007.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Sonia Boyce RA" (Profile and Selected CV), Royal Academy, 9 March 2016. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
  16. ^ Boyce, Sonia (6 February 2018). "Our removal of Waterhouse's naked nymphs painting was art in action | Sonia Boyce". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 11 March 2020.
  17. ^ Crinson, Mark (1998). Sonia Boyce: Performance. London: Institute of International Visual Arts (INIVA). ISBN 1-899846-15-8.
  18. ^ "Sonia Boyce OBE" at Tate online.
  19. ^ Government Art Collection. Sonia Boyce
  20. ^ Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain's Hidden Art History, BBC Four.
  21. ^ Ramaswamy, Chitra (30 July 2018), "Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain’s Hidden Art History review – a powerful picture of whitewashing", The Guardian.
  22. ^ "UK New Year's Honours 2019: artists awarded include Sonia Boyce, Gillian Wearing, Tacita Dean and Alison Wilding". Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  23. ^ Needham, Alex, and Lanre Bakare (12 February 2020), "Sonia Boyce first black woman to represent Britain at Venice Biennale", The Guardian.
  24. ^ a b Noel, Samantha (28 March 2014). "Putting on a Bold-Face". Third Text. 28 (2): 163–176. doi:10.1080/09528822.2014.890789.
  25. ^ "Walls Are Talking: Wallpaper, Art and Culture" (6 February–3 May 2010). Events at The University of Manchester.
  26. ^ "There is no archive in which nothing gets lost" (6 September 2012—24 November 2012), The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
  27. ^ Jeffrey, Moira (1 March 2014), "Art review: Boyce, Büchler and Hiller, Glasgow CCA: Three stars of contemporary art return to the CCA where they exhibited in the 1980s", The Scotsman.
  28. ^ "Female Art in Action". Archived 1 August 2015 at the Wayback Machine, The Radical Lives of Eric & Jessica Huntley website.
  29. ^ Hayward Gallery; Johnstone, Isobel; Sandhu, Sukhdev; Jones, Ann; Gallery, Leeds (England) City Art; Gallery, Tullie House Museum and Art; Centre, University College of Wales (Aberystwyth, Wales) Arts; Gallery, Usher Art; Museum, Nottingham Castle (1 January 2004). Stranger than fiction. Hayward Gallery. ISBN 9781853322396.
  30. ^ Boyce, Sonia. "Art and Design Research Institute". Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  31. ^ "BAM – Black Artists and Modernism". Research Councils UK. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  32. ^ "Black Artists and Modernism (BAM)". Transnational. University of the Arts London. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  33. ^ Boyce, Sonia (2010). Like Love. The Green Box. ISBN 9783941644168.

Further reading[edit]

  • Sonia Boyce (exhibition catalogue, intro Pitika Ntuli; London, Air Gallery, 1987) [texts by Boyce]
  • The Impossible Self (exhibition catalogue by B. Ferguson, S. Nairne, S. Boyce and others, Winnipeg, A.G., 1988)
  • M. Corris: "Sonia Boyce at Vanessa Devereux Gallery", Artforum, xxx (1992), p. 124
  • Gilane Tawadros, Sonia Boyce: Speaking in Tongues. London: Kala Press, 1997. ISBN 0947753095
  • Recent Sonia Boyce: La, La, La (exhibition catalogue by S. Fillin-Yeh and M. Verhagen; Portland, OR, Reed Coll, Cooley A.G.; 2001)
  • David A. Bailey, Kobena Mercer, Catherine Ugwu (eds), MIRAGE: Enigmas of Race, Difference and Desire, ICA, 1995. ISBN 0905263847.
  • M. Crinson (ed.): Sonia Boyce: Performance, Institute of International Visual Arts in collaboration with Cornerhouse (London, 1998)

External links[edit]