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Sonia Boyce’s British Pavilion Wins the Prestigious Golden Lion for Outstanding National Display at the Venice Biennale.

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With her piece Feeling Her Way, which incorporated video, collage, music, and sculpture, British artist Sonia Boyce received the top Golden Lion prize at the Venice Biennales. Boyce is the first black woman to ever represent the United Kingdom in a major sporting event.

Five black female musicians improvise and play with their vocals are included in her work. According to the British Council, which commissioned the piece, “the rooms of the [British] pavilion are filled with noises— sometimes harmonizing, sometimes discordant–reflecting notions of freedom, power, and vulnerability.”

Sonia Boyce's British Pavilion Wins the Prestigious Golden Lion for Outstanding National Display at the Venice Biennale. 5

Boyce was praised by the biennale’s five-member jury for highlighting “important concerns of practice” rather than precisely tuned music, as well as for building “relationships between voices in the guise of a distant choir.”

“Sonia Boyce presents, as a result, another interpretation of history through the sonic,” the judges noted of the installation. She unpacks a plethora of buried experiences by collaborating with other black women.”

After the ceremony, Boyce told Artnet News that her partners’ performances were inspired by a simple question: “What does freedom feel like as a woman, as a black person?” “Can you image what it’s like to be free?”

Jacqui Dankworth, Poppy Ajudha, Sofia Jernberg, Tanita Tikaram, and composer Errollyn Wallen participate in a studio recording session in this piece. Individual artists are featured in subsequent rooms, producing a changing, overlapping soundscape as the audience moves through the pavilion.

Emma Dexter, the director of visual arts at the British Council, said Boyce’s work was “the appropriate option for this critical period in UK history.” Boyce first attended the Biennale in 2015, as part of curator Okwui Enwezor’s installation “All the World’s Features.” Boyce gave a moving acceptance speech.

The project builds on Boyce’s Devotional endeavor, a growing library of vinyl, CDs, and memorabilia that began in 1999. “Sonia Boyce suggests, as a result, another reading of history through the sonic,” the award judges said in a tweet. She unpacks a plethora of buried experiences by collaborating with other black women.”

Simone Leigh, a Black woman artist who is representing the United States at the Giardini, won the Golden Lion for best participant in Cecilia Alemani’s Milk of Dreams exhibition. The Brick House (2019), a 16-foot-tall sculpture representing an eyeless Black female figure, stands at the exhibition entrance.

The award was given to Leigh “for the meticulously studied… and highly compelling massive sculptural entrance to the Arsenale,” according to the judges.

Sonia Boyce's British Pavilion Wins the Prestigious Golden Lion for Outstanding National Display at the Venice Biennale. 6

Shuvinai Ashoona (Untitled, 2021), an Inuk artist, and Lynn Hershman Leeson (Logic Paralyzes the Heart, 2021), a US artist, were both honoured for their contributions to The Milk of Dreams. According to a news release, “Ashoona acknowledges the cruelty of the colonial endeavour and provides options of escaping the cul-de-sac through listening in… and listening forward to indigenous knowledge.”

Ali Cherri, a Beirut-born artist, was awarded the Silver Lion for Promising Young Participant; his mud sculpture work Titans (2002) is included in The Milk of Dreams.

The renowned Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement were also awarded to German artist Katharina Fritsch and Chilean artist Cecilia Vicua at the awards event. Alemani picked both artists; Fritsch and Vicua are both included.

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