‘It’s About Bringing People Together’: Sonia Boyce on Representing Britain at the 59th Venice Biennale

Sonia Boyce. Photo: Anne Purkiss, 2018

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists and curators exhibiting in and curating the various national pavilions of the 2022 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the leadup to and during the Venice Biennale, which runs from 23 April to 27 November.

Sonia Boyce is representing the UK. The pavilion is in the Giardini.

ArtReview What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

Sonia Boyce There’s lots of media and print; it’s about bringing people together; it’s about improvisation; and hopefully it’s a journey for the visitor through different kinds of spaces across the Pavilion.

AR Why is the Venice Biennale still important?

SB It’s a litmus test for what artists are thinking about at this moment.

AR Do you think there is such a thing as national art? Or is all art universal? What is misunderstood or forgotten about your country’s art history or artistic traditions?

SB If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we’re all connected. It’s hard to say in the twenty-first century that all art is universal but it’s increasingly difficult to stake a claim for national art. In terms of the UK, because I teach and I’ve been teaching for a long time, what can get overlooked is the very particular art practices that have informed what people are doing in the UK. So there are generations that do get overlooked because of what might be happening internationally. But I think this happens in any country, it’s not particular to the UK.

Sonia Boyce, Devotional, 2018. Photo: Mike Pollard. © the artist; All Rights Reserved, DACS/Artimage 2020. Courtesy Manchester Art Gallery

AR Which other artists from your country have influenced or inspired you?

SB Claudette Johnson. I first met Claudette and was introduced to her work in 1982 – there are lots of themes that were in a talk that she gave about her work at that time, that have continued to pose questions for me.

AR How does having a pavilion in Venice make a difference to the art scene in your country?

SB It’s a highly prestigious event and it generates a lot of conversation. There’s a criss-cross between the many artists and curators, institutions and collectors that attend. It’s like the perfect storm of all of the various elements of the art world. And it’s important for lots of people to be here, to be part of the highway that it is and to do what networking is meant to do. It’s always really exciting.

AR If you’ve been to the biennale before, what’s your earliest or best memory from Venice?

SB Entering Venice on the water bus. I still get excited. Particularly if it’s at night and the lights are on and it’s lit in a particular way. There is nothing like it.

AR What else are you looking forward to seeing?

SB I’m looking forward to seeing The Milk of Dreams. I’m really anticipating how imaginative that show is going to be, because all of the works that Cecilia Alemani has selected from the established, emerging or historical artists are tied all together by her pushing this question of the importance of the human imagination. We so need that at this moment.

The 59th Venice Biennale runs 23 April – 27 November

Sonia Boyce is also featured in Radio Ballads running at Serpentine North until 29 May

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