IWD: Sonia Boyce - A woman of radical political artistry


As we celebrate the inspiring legacy of International Women’s Day, let us take a closer look at acclaimed Afro-Caribbean artist, social activist, and feminist, Sonia Boyce.

Born in Islington in London in 1962, Boyce took a liking to art at a young age, displaying immense promise through the scribblings in the margins of her notebooks at school. Due to her working-class upbringing, Boyce knew little about the possibility of art school, yet after completing a combination of foundation courses in various artistic facets, her passion and career began to flourish.

Boyce’s art is extremely expressive and mimics her own personal growth. In the 1980’s Boyce was involved within the British Black arts movement which promoted the creation of art surrounding issues of equality, race, and gender. During this period in her ongoing career, she included herself in her artwork, portrayed as a subject of race as well as the challenges of growing up in the city as a Black woman.

As Boyce evolved, so did her art. Towards the 1990s, Boyce shifted her gaze from painting and drawing to mixed media like photography and performance. She began to feature willing participants in her new works while still dealing with motifs of race and gender, yet in a more ambiguous way to reach a broader group of people.

Her most recent piece, titled Devotional, is an artwork series that is forever changing, thus there have been a handful of different versions. It is a collection of pictures, drawings, magazine articles, and other items, all connected in some way to Black British female singers. This compilation of memories serves as an archive of these influential vocalists.

At its core International Women’s Day is a holiday to celebrate the cultural, political, socioeconomic achievements of women all over the world. Sonia Boyce is a perfect representation of this holiday as she uses art in many different forms to depict the personal and widespread struggle that women of colour face in our world today.

Boyce continues to pave the way after her appointment as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2019 and was elected to be the first Black woman to represent the United Kingdom at the 2021 59th annual Venice Biennale. Boyce is a pioneer for Black women in the United Kingdom and the world as her legacy remains to be a representation of the unrepresented.

By Phoebe Plunkett

Sonia Boyce, Devotional, 2018. Image courtesy Manchester Art Gallery. Photo: Mike Pollard