British artist Sonia Boyce won the Venice Biennales’ top Golden Lion prize with her work Feeling Her Way, which combined video, collage, music and sculpture. Boyce is the first black woman to represent the UK.
Her work features videos of five black female musicians who improvise and play with their voices. “The rooms of the [British] pavilion are filled with sounds – sometimes harmonious, sometimes clashing – embodying feelings of freedom, power and vulnerability,” according to the British Council, which commissioned the work.
The biennale’s five-person jury commended Boyce for raising “important questions of rehearsal” as opposed to perfectly tuned music, as well as for creating “relations between voices in the form of a choir in the distance”.
The jury said of the installation: “Sonia Boyce proposes, consequently, another reading of histories through the sonic. In working collaboratively with other black women, she unpacks a plenitude of silenced stories.”
After the ceremony, Boyce told Artnet News her collaborators’ performances were born out of a simple question: “As a woman, as a black person, what does freedom feel like? How can you imagine freedom?”
The work features musicians Jacqui Dankworth, Poppy Ajudha, Sofia Jernberg, Tanita Tikaram, and composer Errollyn Wallen as they take part in a studio recording session. Following rooms feature the individual performers, creating an evolving, overlapping soundtrack as the audience passes through the pavilion.
The British Council’s director of visual arts, Emma Dexter, said Boyce’s work was the “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. In her acceptance speech, Boyce thanked the late curator, who offered her early encouragement.
The last British winner of the Golden Lion was Richard Hamilton in 1993.