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Sonia Boyce MBE

Born, 1962 in London, England

Sonia Boyce is by far one of the most important artists associated in large part with the emergence of Black artists in 1980s Britain. Beyond or within this context, she is further identified - along with Lubaina Himid and others - with the emergence and development of curatorial and critical contexts addressing the practice of Black women artists of that decade. Boyce was born in London in 1962 to parents from the Caribbean countries of Barbados and Guyana. She received her art school training at Stourbridge, graduating in 1983, then returning to London, where she has continued to live and work since that time.

Boyce was one of five artists in Room at the Top, a group exhibition curated by Waldemar Januszczak. The exhibition took place at Nicola Jacobs Gallery, 9 Cork Street, 6 February - 9 March 1985. The other artists included in the exhibition were: Gerard de Thame, Mary Mabbutt, Paul Richards, and Adrian Wiszniewski. The exhibition was one of the very few such undertakings, during the 1980s, in which the work of a Black artist (in this instance, Sonia Boyce), was exhibited alongside work by white artists. Boyce was for a while an artist with whom Januszczak, (at the time, visual arts reviewer for the Guardian), was particularly impressed.

Boyce was one of the first Black British artists to have work included in The British Art Show (in 1990). Likewise, she was the first Black British artist ever to have a solo exhibition at the Whitechapel (Sonia Boyce: Recent Work, New Gallery, 13 May - 26 June 1988). Boyce is primarily known for her work as a visual artist, but over the years she has also worked as an archivist, editor, lecturer and tutor. Together with artists such as Keith Piper, Boyce’s work was widely exhibited in a range of exhibitions during the 1980s and beyond. These exhibitions began with the initiatives developed by Lubaina Himid such as Black Woman Time Now at Battersea Arts Centre and Five Black Women Artists at the Africa Centre. From these exhibitions, Boyce went on to many other group exhibitions, among them Into the Open and Unrecorded Truths (again, both of these exhibitions featured the curatorial input of Lubaina Himid). She also had several important solo exhibitions, perhaps the most import being her 1986 show at the Air Gallery.

Boyce is known and celebrated for her wonderful oil pastel drawings that explored a range of personal and social narratives, touching on an astonishingly wide range of subjects. The ambiguities of Christianity and its troubling and troubled relationship with Black people; the legacies and the consequences of the British empire, Predatory and abusive behaviours that often remain hidden from view; the importance of memory. All these topics and many others have featured in Boyce’s earlier work. From the late 1980s onwards, her work began to change markedly. She began to move away from her distinctive oil pastel drawings towards ways of working that utilised photography, montage, colour photocopying and so on. From this work, Boyce progressed to performance, installation, and other ways of working that were largely reflective of contemporary art practices of the 1990s. Her work was the subject of a monograph written by Gilane Tawadros and as an artist, illustrator and editor, her name is linked to a range of publications.

Her work was included in the From Two Worlds exhibition at Whitechapel Art Gallery, 30 July - 7 September 1986. Likewise, her work was included in the landmark exhibition The Other Story: Afro-Asian artists in post-war Britain, Hayward Gallery, London, 1989. She has held a number of academic posts, including that of Associate Lecturer in Fine Art at Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design at the University of the Arts, London. She edited (with David A. Bailey and Ian Baucom) Shades of Black, subtitled Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain. Sonia Boyce and David A. Bailey’s collaborative work, plus a pieces of Boyce’s own work, was included in the book Shades of Black: Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain. At the conference, she chaired The Importance of Collaboration in the Development of Practice panel, 21 April 2001. She was also part of the conference’s Summation panel.

For a period of time, Boyce and Bailey ran the African and Asian Visual Artist’ Archive. The previously mentioned Shades of Black emerged out of their work at AAVAA.

Sonia Boyce was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2007, for services to art.

She continues to practice, exhibit and collaborative with a range of venues, in Britain and internationally. One of her most recent projects in London was her Devotional work at the National Portrait Gallery. The work “an installation in one of the gallery’s spaces“ featured the names of a wide range of Black British women singers, drawn directly onto the walls and decoratively embellished. Supplementing this was a collection of portraits of some of these singers.

Boyce’s work was discussed and illustrated in Exiles, Diasporas & Strangers, one of four books in a series titled Annotating Art’s Histories, jointly published by The MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts and iniva the Institute of International Visual Arts, London, published in 2008 and edited by Kobena Mercer. The chapter relating to Boyce was Diaspora, Trauma and the Poetics of Remembrance, by Jean Fisher.

Two of Boyce’s most celebrated pieces - She Ain’t Holding Them Up, She’s Hold On (Some English Rose), 1986, and Big Women’s Talk, 1984 were reproduced as part of a chapter by Amna Malik - Migratory Aesthetics: (Dis)placing the Black Maternal Subject in Martina Attille’s Dreaming Rivers (1988) - in “Black” British Aesthetics Today. Published by: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007

Boyce’s work was included in the major Migrations: Journeys into British Art exhibition at Tate Britain, in 2012. The catalogue included two pages of edited text of an interview Boyce by Lizzie Carey-Thomas and Paul Goodwin, two of the curators of the exhibition. In the text, Boyce discusses aspects of the history and development of her practice.

Related items - view 5

click to show details of 9 Night in Eldorado - catalogue

»  9 Night in Eldorado - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1997

click to show details of Action

»  Action

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 2010

click to show details of Anger at Hand

»  Anger at Hand

Review relating to an exhibition, 1985

click to show details of Approaches to Realism - card

»  Approaches to Realism - card

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of A Bizarre Form of Anthropology

»  A Bizarre Form of Anthropology

Article relating to an exhibition, 1987

click to show details of Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century

»  Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century

Book relating to a publication, 1997

click to show details of “Black” British Aesthetics Today

»  “Black” British Aesthetics Today

Book relating to a publication, 2007

click to show details of Black Roses - Sonia Boyce

»  Black Roses - Sonia Boyce

Poster relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of Black Visual Culture - book

»  Black Visual Culture - book

Book relating to a publication, 2000

click to show details of Caribbean Art - book

»  Caribbean Art - book

Book relating to a publication, 1998

click to show details of CARIBBEAN EXPRESSIONS IN BRITAIN - catalogue

»  CARIBBEAN EXPRESSIONS IN BRITAIN - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of Critical Decade: Black British Photography in the 80s

»  Critical Decade: Black British Photography in the 80s

Book relating to a publication, 1992

click to show details of Crossing the Waters

»  Crossing the Waters

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2007

click to show details of Decibel Calender 2004

»  Decibel Calender 2004

Brochure relating to a publication, 2004

click to show details of The Elbow Room - 2 Reviews

»  The Elbow Room - 2 Reviews

Review relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of Exiles, Diasporas & Strangers

»  Exiles, Diasporas & Strangers

Book relating to a publication, 2008

click to show details of From Tarzan to Rambo

»  From Tarzan to Rambo

Postcard relating to an exhibition, 2012

click to show details of From Two Worlds - catalogue

»  From Two Worlds - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of From Two Worlds - press release

»  From Two Worlds - press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of “From Where to Here”: Art From London

»  “From Where to Here”: Art From London

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1999

click to show details of Home Comforts | Sonia Boyce

»  Home Comforts | Sonia Boyce

Review relating to an exhibition, 1987

click to show details of The Image Employed

»  The Image Employed

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1987

click to show details of In Black and White: Prints from Africa and the Diaspora

»  In Black and White: Prints from Africa and the Diaspora

Book relating to a publication, 2013

click to show details of Inside Out

»  Inside Out

Invite relating to an exhibition, 1998

click to show details of Intimacy - invitation card

»  Intimacy - invitation card

Invite relating to an exhibition, 2001

click to show details of The Invisible City - catalogue

»  The Invisible City - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of Island Stories | Ameena Meer talks to Keith Piper

»  Island Stories | Ameena Meer talks to Keith Piper

Article relating to an individual, 1992

click to show details of Licked: Sonia Boyce and Yeu-Lai Mo - poster

»  Licked: Sonia Boyce and Yeu-Lai Mo - poster

Poster relating to an exhibition, 2000

click to show details of Licked: Sonia Boyce and Yeu-Lai Mo - press release

»  Licked: Sonia Boyce and Yeu-Lai Mo - press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 2000

click to show details of Migrations: Journeys into British Art - catalogue

»  Migrations: Journeys into British Art - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2012

click to show details of Migrations: Journeys into British Art - postcard pack

»  Migrations: Journeys into British Art - postcard pack

Postcard relating to an exhibition, 2012

click to show details of Numbered Days

»  Numbered Days

Letter relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of The Other Story - catalogue

»  The Other Story - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1989

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»  The Other Story - City Limits

Article relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of The Other Story - exhibition guide

»  The Other Story - exhibition guide

Exhibition guide relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of The Other Story - gallery listing

»  The Other Story - gallery listing

Gallery Listings relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of The Other Story - guide

»  The Other Story - guide

Exhibition guide relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of The Other Story - Manchester invitation

»  The Other Story - Manchester invitation

Invite relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of The Other Story - Wolverhampton invitation

»  The Other Story - Wolverhampton invitation

Invite relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of Peep | Sonia Boyce

»  Peep | Sonia Boyce

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1995

click to show details of Preview: From Another World

»  Preview: From Another World

Article relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Pride and prejudice

»  Pride and prejudice

Review relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Recent Sonia Boyce: La, La, La

»  Recent Sonia Boyce: La, La, La

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2001

click to show details of Room at the Top

»  Room at the Top

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1985

click to show details of Scat - preview card

»  Scat - preview card

Preview relating to an exhibition, 2013

click to show details of Shades of Black (book)

»  Shades of Black (book)

Book relating to a publication, 2005

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»  Shades of Black book review (Art Monthly)

Review relating to a publication, 2005

click to show details of Shocks to the System

»  Shocks to the System

Article relating to an exhibition, 1991

click to show details of Shocks to the System - catalogue

»  Shocks to the System - catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1991

click to show details of Shocks to the System - Spare Rib piece

»  Shocks to the System - Spare Rib piece

Article relating to an exhibition, 1991

click to show details of Sonia Boyce

»  Sonia Boyce

Exhibition guide relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of Sonia Boyce - AIR Gallery catalogue

»  Sonia Boyce - AIR Gallery catalogue

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of Sonia Boyce - Big Woman’s Talk - press photograph

»  Sonia Boyce - Big Woman’s Talk - press photograph

Photograph relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Sonia Boyce - She Ain’t Holding Them Up - press photograph

»  Sonia Boyce - She Ain’t Holding Them Up - press photograph

Photograph relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Sonia Boyce - The Invisible City - postcard/1

»  Sonia Boyce - The Invisible City - postcard/1

Postcard relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of Sonia Boyce - The Invisible City - postcard/2

»  Sonia Boyce - The Invisible City - postcard/2

Postcard relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of Sonia Boyce - The Invisible City - postcard/3

»  Sonia Boyce - The Invisible City - postcard/3

Postcard relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of Sonia Boyce - The Invisible City - postcard/4

»  Sonia Boyce - The Invisible City - postcard/4

Postcard relating to an exhibition

click to show details of Sonia Boyce - The Invisible City - postcard/5

»  Sonia Boyce - The Invisible City - postcard/5

Postcard relating to an exhibition, 1990

click to show details of Sonia Boyce: Choir Programme

»  Sonia Boyce: Choir Programme

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 2000

click to show details of Sonia Boyce: Recent Work - brochure

»  Sonia Boyce: Recent Work - brochure

Brochure relating to an exhibition, 1988

click to show details of Sonia Boyce AIR Gallery preview (Time Out)

»  Sonia Boyce AIR Gallery preview (Time Out)

Review relating to an exhibition, 1987

click to show details of Sonia Boyce, Arts Review

»  Sonia Boyce, Arts Review

Review relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of The Sonia Boyce exhibition

»  The Sonia Boyce exhibition

Review relating to an exhibition, 1987

click to show details of Sonia Boyce, Missionary Position II postcard

»  Sonia Boyce, Missionary Position II postcard

Postcard relating to an individual

click to show details of Sonia Boyce, Missionary Position I press photograph

»  Sonia Boyce, Missionary Position I press photograph

Photograph relating to an individual, 1985

click to show details of Sonia Boyce | Hermione Wiltshire - private view card

»  Sonia Boyce | Hermione Wiltshire - private view card

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 1999

click to show details of Sonia Boyce | Like Love: Parts One & Two

»  Sonia Boyce | Like Love: Parts One & Two

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 2010

click to show details of Sonia Boyce | Peep - private view card

»  Sonia Boyce | Peep - private view card

Announcement relating to an exhibition, 1995

click to show details of Sonia Boyce | Recent Work - press release

»  Sonia Boyce | Recent Work - press release

Press release relating to an exhibition, 1988

click to show details of Sonia Boyce | Recent Work - review

»  Sonia Boyce | Recent Work - review

Review relating to an exhibition, 1988

click to show details of Sonia Boyce | Speaking in Tongues

»  Sonia Boyce | Speaking in Tongues

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1997

click to show details of Sonia Boyce | Talking Presence - card

»  Sonia Boyce | Talking Presence - card

Postcard relating to an individual, 1988

click to show details of State of the Art: Exhibition and book

»  State of the Art: Exhibition and book

Review relating to an exhibition, 1987

click to show details of Thin Black Line

»  Thin Black Line

Article relating to an exhibition, 1985

click to show details of The Thin Black Line - City Limits

»  The Thin Black Line - City Limits

Review relating to an exhibition, 1985

click to show details of The Thin Black Line ICA catalogue 1985

»  The Thin Black Line ICA catalogue 1985

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1985

click to show details of Third Text: The Other Story

»  Third Text: The Other Story

Journal relating to an exhibition, 1989

click to show details of Transforming the Crown

»  Transforming the Crown

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1997

click to show details of Unrecorded Truths

»  Unrecorded Truths

Invite relating to an exhibition, 1986

click to show details of Waldemar Januszczak | There is a world elsewhere

»  Waldemar Januszczak | There is a world elsewhere

Review relating to an exhibition, 1986

Related exhibitions + view all 27

»  The Image Employed

Group show at Cornerhouse. 1987

Related venues + view all 38

»  Cornerhouse

Manchester, United Kingdom

»  Hayward Gallery

London, United Kingdom

»  Manchester City Art Gallery

Manchester, United Kingdom

»  Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Wolverhampton, United Kingdom