Sonia Boyce OBE RA represented Great Britain at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia; the first black woman to represent the UK at Venice. Commissioned by us at the British Council, the work was awarded Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion prize, combining video, collage, music and sculpture.

Sonia Boyce OBE is known for her highly innovative and experimental approach to art-making, using performance and audio-visual elements in her work. Since the 1990s, her practice has become increasingly improvisational and collaborative, inviting a broad cross-section of participants to come together and speak, sing or move in relation to the past and the present.

'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' she said of receiving the news. Our Director of Visual Arts, Emma Dexter explained 'Boyce’s work raises important questions about the nature of creativity, questioning who makes art, how ideas are formed, and the nature of authorship [and] at such a pivotal moment in the UK’s history.'

The artwork that Boyce produced focuses on the vocal experimentation of five outstanding black female musicians – Poppy Ajudha, Jacqui Dankworth MBE, Sofia Jernberg, Tanita Tikaram and Errollyn Wallen CBE – as they embody feelings of power, freedom and vulnerability.

Awarding the accolade, the jury said: 'Sonia Boyce proposes … another reading of histories through the sonic. In working collaboratively with other black women, she unpacks a plenitude of silenced stories.'

The British Council story at Venice

The British Council has been responsible for the British Pavilion at La Biennale di Venezia since 1937, showcasing the best of the UK's artists, architects, designers and curators. These exhibitions, and the British Council’s Venice Fellowships initiative introduced in 2016, help make the British Pavilion a major platform for discussion about contemporary art and architecture.