Sonia Boyce Will Represent Britain in 2021 Venice Biennale

Sonia Boyce will represent Great Britain at the 2021 Venice Biennale. Sonia is the first black woman to represent Britain in Venice.

In 2018 Sonia found herself amidst controversy during a Manchester Art Gallery commissioned artist “takeover.” Sonia had the 1896 painting Hylas and the Nymphs by John William Waterhouse taken down as part of a bigger intervention in the galleries that included performances questioning representation of women in 19th century art. The painting was temporarily removed and replaced with questions for visitors to respond to that included,

“This gallery presents the female body as either a ‘passive decorative form’ or a ‘femme fatale.’ Let’s challenge this Victorian fantasy!

The gallery exists in a world full of intertwined issues of gender, race, sexuality, and class which affect us all. How could artworks speak in more contemporary, relevant ways?

What other stories could these artworks and their characters tell? What other themes would be interesting to explore in the gallery?”

Hylas and the Nymphs, John William Waterhouse, 1896. Photograph: Courtesy Manchester City Galleries

The temporary removal was met with a lot of push back, some saying it was censorship and another equating it to when Nazi’s removed art that did not align with their political or social ideals. Sonia’s questioning of what should be in the galleries and what stories can be told about existing works in the collection was part of a larger process in which she engaged people across the museum, from curators to volunteers and security staff.  In an editorial for The Guardian responding to the push back, Sonia wrote,

“Some museums – I suppose the type I am most interested in – consider the museum as a place to explore new meanings and to forge new relationships between people and art. In my mind, the past never sits still and contemporary art’s job is increasingly about exploring how art intersects with civic life.”

Marabou is excited to see how Sonia’s perspectives on art, curation, and agency will shape the 2021 British Pavilion in Venice.


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