Respected British artist Sonia Boyce OBE, whose work has been a regular fixture at Birmingham art galleries, will receive an Honorary Doctorate from Birmingham City University.

Boyce, who has been practising art for around forty years, is being recognised for her influential contributions to the Black British art movement and her exploration of race, gender, and identity politics.

Speaking about the Honorary Doctorate, Boyce said: “I am delighted to be the recipient of such a huge honour.

“Birmingham and the West Midlands hold special memories for me. I studied Fine Art at Stourbridge, and the region truly was the beginning of my artistic awakening.”

Boyce gained prominence in the 1980’s among a peer group that challenged the lack of representation and addressed issues of racism and cultural identity in the art world.

Her works incorporate performance, photography, and mixed media, including elements of collage and assemblage.

Since the 1990’s, Boyce’s art practice has taken a significant multi-media and improvisational turn, focussed on collaboration, movement and sound.

Frequently mining popular culture, Boyce has explored dance, music, and archival footage, to reflect on the politics of cultural appropriation and the complexities of cultural heritage.

The artist has picked up various awards and honours. In 2019, Boyce was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to the Arts. In 2022, she was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the 59th Venice Biennale.

A photograph of artist Sonia Boyce which was taken by Pogus Caesar in 1983Pogus Caesar/Artimage/DACS
A photograph of artist Sonia Boyce which was taken by Pogus Caesar in 1983

Boyce also finds time in her busy schedule to teach and has taught in art colleges across the UK. As the Chair of Black Art & Design at University of the Arts London she led on a 3-year research project into Black Artists & Modernism, exploring the contribution of overlooked artists of African and Asian descent to the story of Modern British art, which led to a BBC documentary Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain’s Hidden Art History (2018).

Current and recent exhibitions include Feeling Her Way, Leeds Art Gallery and Turner Contemporary, Margate (2023); The Disorderly, Apalazzo Gallery, Brescia (2022); Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 1950s – Now, Tate Britain, London (2021); In the Castle of My Skin, Eastside Projects, Birmingham (2020) and Middlesborough Museum of Art (2021).

Acclaimed Black British photographer Pogus Caesar, who was raised in the Sparkbrook area of Birmingham, has photographed Boyce several times and some of these remarkable and soulful images now form part of the National Portrait Gallery’s collection.

The National Portrait Gallery has been closed since 2020 due to major redevelopments – the most extensive since 1896 – and when it opened its doors in June this year the public saw some stunning new works on display including Caesar’s portrait of Boyce.

Birmingham photographer Pogus Caesar at the National Portrait Gallery where his work is on displayPogus Caesar/Artimage/DACS
Birmingham photographer Pogus Caesar at the National Portrait Gallery where his work is on display

Speaking to I Am Birmingham, Caesar said: “It was a real honour to attend the reopening of the National Portrait Gallery, London and a wonderful surprise to see my portrait of the artist Sonia Boyce on display.

“The portrait taken in Handsworth 1983 is one of eight acquired by gallery for their permanent collection. A major force in contemporary art, Boyce is the first black woman to represent Britain in the 2022 Venice Biennale.”

Caesar congratulated Boyce when he heard about the Honorary Doctorate being bestowed upon her by Birmingham City University.

He said: “Huge congratulations to Sonia. It’s great that Sonia is receiving this accolade.

“She is a stalwart in the Black British arts movement, an incredible supporter of women in art, a giant whose work has stepped over international borders and whose footsteps create inspiration for others in the future.”

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