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Sonia Boyce on Venice Biennale: You could have knocked me down with a feather

Her work has an element of ‘surprise’ and ‘unpredictability’, the British Council said.

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Sonia Boyce the first black woman to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale (Paul Cochrane/ UAL)

Sonia Boyce the first black woman to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale (Paul Cochrane/ UAL)

Sonia Boyce the first black woman to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale (Paul Cochrane/ UAL)

Sonia Boyce will represent Britain at one of the world’s most famous art exhibitions – the Venice Biennale.

She becomes the first black woman to represent Britain at the event, in which countries display work by top artists.

Boyce follows in the footsteps of the late Henry Moore and Francis Bacon, as well as Tracey Emin and Bridget Riley, at the British Pavilion in 2021.

The celebration of contemporary art takes place every two years, alternating with architecture.

A film still of Exquisite Cacophony by Sonia Boyce
A film still of Exquisite Cacophony by Sonia Boyce (Sonia Boyce)

Boyce said: “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 2021 – it was like a bolt out of the blue.

“Obviously, I’m extremely honoured, excited and nervous. I’m eager to start this creative journey, exploring the experience with others who agree to work with me along the way.”

The British Council told Radio 4’s Today programme that the artist’s work has an element of “surprise” and “unpredictability”.

And Boyce, who has recently been making “artist wallpapers” and rose to prominence in the early 1980s, said: “I’m not yet sure what will unfold because a lot of what I do depends on the people that I work with.”

She sparked controversy in 2018 when she co-ordinated a Manchester Art Gallery event in which the 1896 painting Hylas And The Nymphs, was taken down.

She said the controversial decision to remove the painting, depicting naked nymphs luring a male lover to his death, was taken to spark debate about what is now unsuitable and offensive.

Emma Dexter, British Council director of visual arts, said the British Pavilion Selection Committee had “chosen an artist whose work embodies inclusiveness, generosity, experimentation and the importance of working together” at “a pivotal moment in the UK’s history”.

She said that “collaboration, improvisation and dialogue will undoubtedly play a key role” in the exhibition.

The exhibition, in Venice, will run from May to November 2021.

PA