VENICE – Artist Sonia Boyce has won Britain’s top prize at the Venice Art Biennale, the world’s oldest and most publicized international exhibition of contemporary art.
“Feeling Her Way” – a sound installation of five black British musicians singing a cappella – won the Golden Lion for best national participation. Boyce is the first black woman to represent Britain at the Venice event.
Saturday’s other big prize, the Golden Lion for best artist in the Biennale’s central exhibition, was won by American artist Simone Leigh for her “powerfully compelling monumental sculptural opening on the Arsenale”, the one of the two main exhibition sites. The artist presented his work “Brick House,” a 16-foot-tall bronze of a black woman with cornrows and a domed torso that combines the shapes of a skirt and a clay house. It was first seen on the High Line in New York in 2019. Leigh is also representing the United States at this year’s event, so she has her own show in the American pavilion.
“I’ve been around the block a few times, but this is probably the biggest order I’ve ever done,” Boyce said in a phone interview after the ceremony. “It was truly a glorious challenge.”
“The project at the center of the pavilion addresses the issue of collective memory and resistance to the erasure of women’s voices within the UK music system,” she added. “It’s not just me celebrating.”
The five-person Biennale jury was led this year by Adrienne Edwards, director of curatorial affairs at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and curator of the 2022 Whitney Biennale.
Announcing the awards, which were broadcast live from Venice on Saturday, Edwards said Boyce offered “another reading of stories through sound.”
“Working collaboratively with other black women,” Edwards said, Boyce “unpacks a fullness of silenced stories.”
The Venice Biennale was founded in 1895 as an exhibition of new art from around the world. As the number of participating artists grew, other countries built pavilions for them, Belgium being the first in 1907.
There are 80 national pavilions at this year’s event, which was originally scheduled for 2021 but was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The central exhibition in two parts of the Biennale is organized each time by a different artistic director. This year’s director is Italian Cecilia Alemani (Director and Chief Curator of New York’s High Line Art), who has taken the opportunity to reverse more than a century of male artistic dominance and mount a show in which nine out of every 10 artists are women.
At the awards ceremony on Saturday, the Silver Lion for young hopeful participating in the central exhibition went to Lebanese artist Ali Cherri, who presented a multi-channel video centered on a seasonal brickmaker in Sudan whose history overlaps with that of the construction of a monumental dam. .
The jury, which also included Lorenzo Giusti, Julieta González, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and Susanne Pfeffer, awarded four additional prizes.
Special mentions for national participations went to France, represented by Zineb Sedira, an artist of Algerian origin, and to Uganda, represented by artists Acaye Kerunen and Collin Sekajugo.
Special mentions for artists went to Shuvinai Ashoona, who produces fantastic designs that evoke her Inuit community and culture, and Lynn Hershman Leeson, a San Francisco-based artist who works with technology and artificial intelligence.
In March, Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement were awarded to artists Katharina Fritsch and Cecilia Vicuña.
The Venice Biennale runs until November 27.