Sonia Boyce will be first black woman to lead the British Pavilion at Venice Biennale

The artist was also the first black woman to be added to the Tate collection in 1987, and the Royal Academy in 2016, and makes work that “embodies inclusiveness, generosity, experimentation”.

12 February 2020
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2 minute read


The British Council has announced that Sonia Boyce will represent Great Britain at the 59th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2021. She makes history as the first black woman to host a solo show in the British Pavilion, adding to her list of pioneering accomplishments breaking down antiquated barriers in the art world, having previously been the first black woman to be added to the Tate collection in 1987, and the Royal Academy in 2016. She received an OBE last year.

The exhibition will run from May – November 2021 and will feature a major solo exhibition of new work from the London-based artist.

Boyce is known for her innovative and experimental approach employing performance and audio-visual elements in her works. She came to prominence in the early 80s and since the 1990s, her practice has become increasingly improvisational and collaborative, inviting a broad cross-section of participants to be involved in her work. One of her most recent exhibitions, In the Castle of My Skin, currently open at Birmingham’s Eastside Projects, featured what she called a “crazy structure” in the gallery to show her wallpapers and the work of seven collaborating artists.

On the Venice commission, Boyce said in a statement: “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’s director of visual arts, Emma Dexter, who commissions the pavilion, said Boyce’s installation was sure to involve “collaboration, improvisation and dialogue”. She went on: “Boyce’s work raises important questions about the nature of creativity, questioning who makes art, how ideas are formed, and the nature of authorship. At such a pivotal moment in the UK’s history, the committee has chosen an artist whose work embodies inclusiveness, generosity, experimentation and the importance of working together.”

In 2017, Venice Biennale hosted the first ever Diaspora Pavilion, which featured the work of 12 UK-based emerging artists exploring the topic of diaspora. These artists included Larry Achiampong, Libita Clayton, Kimathi Donkor, Ray Fiasco, Michael Forbes, Susan Pui San Lok, Paul Maheke, Khadija Saye, Erika Tan, Barbara Walker and Abbas Zahedi. Saye was one of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017.


Sonia Boyce: Paper Tiger Whisky Soap Theatre at Villa Arson in Nice, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.


Sonia Boyce: In the Castle of My Skin, Eastside Projects 2020. Photo: Stuart Whipps.


Sonia Boyce portrait by Paul Cochrane, courtesy of UAL

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Paper Tiger (Wallpaper), from Paper Tiger Whisky Soap Theatre at Villa Arson in Nice, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny joined the editorial team as It’s Nice That’s first news editor in April 2016. Having studied 3D Design, she has spent over a decade working in design journalism. Contact her with news stories relating to the creative industries on

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