Sonia Boyce, MBE, RA, was born in London in 1962 and her work has encompassed large-scale pastel drawings, photographic collages, film, print, installation and sound. She studied in the West Midlands at Stourbridge College and received an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2007. Boyce was initially known for her figurative pastel drawings imaging her personal experiences, from family life to sexuality and personal identity. Monumental forms built up in bold pastel colours dominate the paper, often setting these idiosyncratic figures against geometric patterned backgrounds, suggestive of contemporary domestic settings. These were marked as “feminist” or distinctly expressive of the British Afro-Caribbean experience though firstly, her works are an exploration of memory and personal narratives that incidentally were female and Black. Later work merged collages, installation video and audio, often produced collaboratively to create multi-media spaces exploring memory, sound and identity. Boyce was the first British-born black artist to have a solo exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1988.
No Colour Bar features one of her earlier graphic self-portrait works, She Ain’t Holding Them Up, She’s Holding On (Some English Rose) (1986). A young girl holds up her family with musculature arms, abstracted on a brown tiled background. A glimpse of a tropical landscape can be seen in the left top-hand corner, the deep blue sky contrasting with the earthy tones of the rest of the work. Boyce’s portrait wears a red dress patterned with black roses – alluding to the English expression of “An English Rose”, a term for typified anglicised beauty. Boyce’s pose seems to mimic the classical pose of Atlas holding up the globe from Greek mythology, suggesting the emotional weight of supporting her family. Her frontal enlarged position places her at the centre of this familial unit whilst the roses on her dress suggest she is the link to the English world, having presumably having grown up as the child of migrants. The girl’s assured stance, unfaltering gaze and strength demonstrates how her identity as a Black Englishwoman allows her to identify with both the African diaspora and the country she was born in. Boyce is not limited by the mono- national conceptions of identity. Boyce goes even further to reframe the definition of an “English Rose”, emphasising that it is not beauty and strength mutually exclusive to a pale completion.
Boyce has taught Fine Art studio practice across colleges in the UK for thirty years and her research work includes a major project to establish a database of Black artists held in British public collections, examining the role of Black artists in Modernism. Boyce is featured in the Tate Modern, London and Art Council England permanent collections and has been exhibited prolifically in solo and group shows across the UK and internationally since the 1980s. Boyce has since had solo exhibition at the ICA, London (2017) and was included in shows such as The Place is Here, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham (2017). Sonia Boyce was elected a Royal Academician in the category of Painting by the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 2016.
Sonia Boyce (b. 1962)
Rice n Peas, 1982
During the 1980s, Boyce emerged as one of the key figures in the trailblazing British Black Arts
Movement, which sought to highlight issues of race, gender and the politics of representation.
Her current work focuses on performance and artistic collaboration.
Oil on canvas