In 2022 Sonia Boyce became the first Black British woman to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale exhibition. She also took home the coveted Golden Lion Award for her installation Feeling Her Way, which combined video and collage with improvised performances by five female musicians. Sonia was born in London and grew up near the renowned Whitechapel Art Gallery. As a very young child she would visit the gallery, often alone, relishing the light and space inside the building. In 1985, two years after graduating from Stourbridge College of Art, she completed her drawing Missionary Position II, which was acquired by the Tate two years later. She was just 25 and was one of the youngest artists and the first Black woman to enter its permanent collection. In 1999 Sonia started work on the Devotional Collection, an archive of sound, ephemera and wallpaper relating to black British women in music, ranging from Shirley Bassey to Neneh Cherry, and celebrating their contribution to international culture. Sonia lives in London with her partner, the curator David A. Bailey. She has taught Fine Art studio practice for more than 30 years in several art colleges across the UK. She was awarded an OBE in the 2019 New Year Honours for services to art. DISC ONE: Meet Me On The Corner - Lindisfarne DISC TWO: Help Me Make It Through the Night - John Holt DISC THREE: Caught You In A Lie - Louisa Mark DISC FOUR: Psycho Killer -Talking Heads DISC FIVE: Wolf & Leopards - Dennis Brown DISC SIX: Is That Jazz - Gil Scott Heron DISC SEVEN: Put Your Records On - Corinne Bailey Rae DISC EIGHT: Love and Affection - Joan Armatrading BOOK CHOICE: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl LUXURY ITEM: Champagne CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Is That Jazz by Gil Scott Heron Presenter Lauren Laverne Producer Paula McGinley
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Previously sounds music. Radio broadcasts, hello, I'm Lorna van, and this is the desert island discs. Podcast. Every week I ask my guest to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert island- and for rights reasons. The meat it is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. I. My castaway this week is the artist sonya voice. She was just twenty five when the tape made her one of the youngest artists and the first black women to enter its permanent collection. Last year, she represented britain at the world's oldest internet.
Large show the venice being ani. She took home. The coveted golden lie in a word, the first british artists to win the top prize in thirty years, and the first woman of color to represent a uk. She was born in london to parents who arrived as part of the windlass generation and as a child she drew incessantly. Her aunt teaches spotted a talent and suggested she give life, drawing a try, she's performance, film installations and sound in her work but says her tree medium. Is people she's a collaborator and has taken the stories of doom the violence survivors to the serpentine gallery, the voices of black female singers to the venice, be an ally and the memories of a local community to a mural running for two kilometers. Alongside the new Elizabeth line in london, she says whenever a door is opened. I asked myself if I am in this place, what is possible? What will enable something to change so that others can benefit from me being here to Sonia
welcome to desert island discs. Thank you. So talk to me sonia fight the excitement of collaboration. It's something! That's engaged you for many years. What you love about her! You know there's this idea that as naught as you work on your own- but I always get very inspired by how other people take to a situation what they do? They always do some really unexpected and then come along. Well, the journey not knowing nisei what that journey might be. I'm thinking I am so grateful for then just thinking yeah. This might be interesting. That must be quite a wave to ride, though as an artist, because you know you have to be very brave to allow things to unfold in unexpected ways. I'm always anxious input as I do, and also the people that I work with, because I don't really I kind of made a decision not to direct people. I mean there have been many times when I thought I brought these people together, I'm not sure anything's going to happen. People will just sit here for ages
it's really worriedly at each other and to not have a plan just to know that we are going to be in space and something's going to happen and then seeing where it goes. Unusually, it just goes off in such spectacular ways that I'm kind of now addicted. You could say to the non plan plan the non flood plan. I love it so Sonia, let's get cracking with your first disc, then What have you got for us? So I always feel slightly embarrassed about this. I must have been about six seven possibly even nine. I saved up my pocket money to buy this record and I was so soft with myself, that this was my record because of course we had records in the house and but they either my above assisted parents music. But I had my own record so this first record is meet me on the corner by lindisfarne, and I still of it even
some of the embarrassing because it been evoked strike hippy kind of song, but it does it will. We have faced, linda meet me on the corner, stone your boy you were born in london. You, father Donald, came from british guyana and your mother edna came from barbados to study nursing. So tell me about your dad. First, he was one of the windows generation. How did he adjusted life in london, its first applause as a protectionist in cinema. Camden, eight actually been at
before he arrived in the uk, and I think this is the first job that he got one when he arrived and after doing the job as a protectionist, he went back into tailoring and my mom She was a nurse she was. She was a dressmaker and we were all of our family were always making things, because I was loaded bags of cloth house always think that my mum, if she'd been born at another time more nation. I think she might have become a fashion designer because shoot, no it. She was always making claims for us. I often thought they re it's the terms of materials, a huge because they were kind of offcuts from what she knew. She'd deal of piecework work at home, and so there was. There was always a weird kinds of bits of fabric that
I would say: oh yeah, I think I'll make your dress out of that. So it'd be like an off cut of things that she'd put together. That sort of word meant to go together, but she'd find a way to make it work, yeah, and I remember lots of very scratchy dresses, and so your parents separated when you were very little. What was your relationship with your dad? Like I didn't see my dad again until I was in my
teens about fifteen? Sixteen he lived in london lived in highgate had a very lively life in igate. As I go see him with my sisters, lively in what way all he would talk about, having celebrity filled parties where the bath would be full of champagne, with ice and and where these tall tales of truth to know cause. He was very involved labour party, so the be mps and all sorts of celebrities would be at his bashes. Whatever they were, he was quite good. Darius is a have a great charmer. I could see how he kind of was charming to my mum, but are very different personalities in terms of she is very much about getting things done and doing things in the right way.
and imagine why would have been an irritating for fur? You want to hear about that as well. She had left her to look after you guys yeah. She wasn't. She was no longer enamelled within an where parents did not, just as my mom got pregnant lost child and so those five of us that she was keeping going bust. Was very determined to make sure that we got a good education. She No. She was always convinced that you know where I was out there in the well. We should go and get this number tee. What have you got here next, so we're gonna hear others a trial that reminds me very much of my eldest sister marietta subsequently died, and we always he saw pile into house and she's got five children and there was his music plain, and this particular track reminds me all the seventeen
and being a house in their being lots of food and lots of noise and lots of people in and out of the house, and it's a trap went on hold court. Help me make it the night common laid down by myself, the John holds and then tell me make it through the night Sonya boys when you parents separated your mother made to funding to a tenement block in east london. You lived vowing to the renowned white chapel art gallery. Did you ever go inside? Probably wonders
whether I first went and white chocolate gary because of a school trip. I don't remember them the first time, but I remember I would go in there quite often on my own and just kind of walk, because it will because I'd been there before, I would just walk in. So you know about seven, eight years old, I just kind of walk into the garin, highlighting I like the scale of the building. We like the light that was in then they all these things that were on the wall. I don't remember any specific, paintings or drawings or images objects. I just remember like Just let go you now whenever I was kind of of Working on my own, I would just walk in there a model when you were home. I know that you love drawing and would use any available surface. Much to my mind, real frustration? When I was at school I was.
We were in the margins when I was there any surface. I was just always joy knows even particularly conscious the fat man, I'm sure he's just something I always did want with joy Feeling we face is names if there were patents, hydraulic patten's this idea of multi from particularly walk papers has recurred in your work throughout the decades. That, presumably, then goes back to your childhood. Tommy, What about the story behind all of these patents and papers that you are surrounded by? I had this thing work with. Basically, you can wake up in the middle night and I was always convinced that the wallpaper was moving, that I could see things in the wallpaper and I do think that wallpaper or repeat pattern has a kind of other worldly quality about it. Now as a child, I was just always bit scared of the white paper and by the I
My green, using those images I such kind of get love more than fair or repeat. Patent can do tentacles the music son. It's your third choice today what we can hear and wisely chosen it. This is a particular I was really into reggae lovers rock, and this particular by Louisa. Mark quote: you lie to me absolutely catches that seventies, my with me, my friends, and how we always ago, two parties, all your colleagues town hookups and we all sing along the song and dance sons aspirations. another way which I'm thinking about our congregated with people are amnesia
The louisa, mark and court you in alive. So so you boys, when you got a bit older? One of your teaches spot your attesting potential. She really took you under her wing. Tell me what happened? Mrs Franklin, whose my own teacher lots of purple she's very much bonnet, come about him in what I mentioned to be, but he
meant to be about and she saw something in the drawing that I was always doing and said. Okay, you need to go to art. School had never heard about school before I was fifteen at the time and most most young people don't go to soon to they're about eighty she went on lesser. What did you make it up a little, Of course she didn't really know what it meant, but she said. Ok, if your teachers says that you should do this, we should go so. The lady had that kind of sense of respect for a professional opinion. Yeah almost the teacher's voice was the law and it was like this world opened up cause. I I had no idea about art school, then what were you expecting and what was your first day like my first day it was. It was hilarious, so
from school and at school. You knock on the teachers door and they say come in and you can go into the classroom. So I get tweets ten college and untold where the life drawing classes and I knock on the door, and I stand in the way for someone to say even come in, and people are coming and going out of the room, but nobody said said could could cover songs, just type age I stood there. I stood there. At least half an hour, and this pleasant had come in and gone out. A few times spoke to me said in you can just go in, and I a route in to this firm and then noticed this room full of about twenty thirty people seated with these evils? and there's this man standing there with no clothes on what is going on? I didn't know where to look and then author, who is the life drawing tutor? so do set yourself up, and I like, why is going home? Why is this got my clothes
because I had no idea what happened in school. I and my mom had no idea, I mean that's the reason why I needed to have her to sign permission for me to go because of life during Leterrier. Fourth, music choice today, what have you gone for Sonia? when I was young about ten eleven. I was obsessed with the old gray whistle test. I was chosen if such a two programmes over whistle tests and the opening Firstly, programmes and it always happened, lay a night amid weak and aid and a lot about kind of new wave bands that were emerging and a particular band. Talking heads endless tracks like a killer. I first saw on the label, suggests the that has not that done.
Why- talking heads answer, go killeth Susan, you in nineteen eighty you started degree. Fine arts was your course stout ridge college of art. Did you find your creative feet there? When I was in fact taken? I've been interested in kind of feminist out practice. Fellas operate is often spoke very much about two issues, and I was coming in all guns, blazing wanting to talk about social issues and with other female students we formed from this student group. We were very concerned about further. There were no female tutors on the course, but fifty percent of student body was was female know, particularly those of us that were part.
That group would often in any time he spoke the beacon of the raised eyebrows and almost see your missile go here. They go again kind of, but actually we were trying to find something better. It must have got quite, am serious cause. It is it true. They wanted to expel yeah by the end of my first year into my second year. They wanted to expel me in so basically argos throughout my second, yeah. I was on continuous assessment and I was terrified to tell my mum, and so I just I just Didn'T- tell her and just kind of she would if, because she would have told you to to do what you're told to do, I was told: did you at any point think I'm just gonna do what they want me today. Nor did I was doing what they would mean still doing these very Full moon, abstract, wings and learning in the process. Learning a lot about paper and materials to send
then I have been browbeat. Numa could say into into getting through the course everything changed. For, though sonya in nineteen eighty born. So you saw a poster for at the wolves to not gallery- and it featured work by a group of young black artists, what impact the art have on you when you went to see it. it was very war is very d. I was very energize. I could tell that the artists were we young because of the nature of what the subject is all about. Subject matter This became the blackout creep. I think they were all in their teens right when they were in their teens and what was the subject matter dimensions unamended. A series of during the series of colleges that we're about such laws, because young people
really feeling that experience. There was something to be said and it couldn't be suppressed anymore, and for me it was like I'd I'd, let lit she woke up the ground shook for me and you send a boat. So what did it do for your sense about your honor? I went back to this school and I just ripped up so much of the work done and thought right. This is it I'm going for it if they, me they fail me. I didn't care, I'm just going to do it Sonia think, we'd better here your next track before we find out in the next chapter in your story nor five. What is it this time by dennis brown? Orphan leopards is part of that moment in reggae, where there's a sense of consciousness way the about being in the uk but also being from the caribbean and that question of a colonial past that brought us to these
for me, is very much about that social moment, his trunk and at last june. That's what I'm doing my job was to try again, just as it is to stand its ground, wolf and leopards on your voice, he graduated in nineteen eighty three and he started making out your own way. You work took on subjects like coal. when he elysium feminism and organised religion. What did you think of it?
he'd say: oh, can you do something nice? Couldn't you just pick paint some flowers or or or to portray? And when I first graduated, I moved back home move at london and she let me use one of the rooms in ass to as it is the studio and one day I came home and should the name was in the studio kind of talking through search, and it was really it was quite contradictory. I was furious that people not allowed to come into the studio and she's going well. You know they just wanted to know. People said asked whether I could do the port transfer. She had a that's, not what I do so, then it was kind of mixed one that will have been very proud, also I think really scared she was. Worried about me being disruptive in nineteen. Eighty five, one of your drawings featured in an exhibition, called the thin black line. Now you called the peace. Mr close friend of the family pays a visit whilst everyone else's out, and it shows a man
reaching out to touch a young girl. We can't see his face just the open neck of his shirt and his crucifix peeking through that young girl. It's you what's the story behind that what I was remembering this instant that had happened at one where a man who was a close friend of the family had had come round to the house. In libya. Was in the house. I'd let him in and- and he tried to write me- I would have been twelve thirteen, something like that and I never spoke about it. Had you thought about it. A lot since, like I said something that came back to you when you started where I think he just came back to me, and I didn't really talk to anybody about what I was going to make for the show I just kind of turned, with this thing rolled up in a in, achieve and put it out and then ran home, because I just gonna felt. I just need to say this at this. anybody know in your life. What happened to ethan to know, and
very aware when I was constructing the image that the female figure he's looking out is looking out directly to the audience to acknowledge her presence didn't help. Yes, it did. I mean, I think, that's part of the whole thing about making out is that somehow you're able to process things and so yeah it did. It did help. Let's go to the music sonja to sixth choice. What are we going here? Next? I wanted to choose something that was about me and my partner David. This particular track reminds me particularly of us, having a holiday or break in amsterdam and we'd gone to a record shop, and we both went for this record by gil scott heron. A track called is that
Ass David, is convinced that he bought the album unconvinced that I back the output is never can be resolved because we both feel that we are in that, but maybe I bought it you, ve got your island to the eager. It sorry David, never having novel on that language skills I, and is that just so sonya waste. As I said at the beginning of the programme yoke
It has included many many firsts. You are the first black woman to have a piece of work collected by the tate in nineteen. Eighty, seven, you just in your mid twenties at the time at the first black woman to represent brits the Van espionage allay how do those firsts sit with you? I love that people recognize me and recognise the things I'm doing, but when I'm told all your first, I kind of think. Oh they weren't expecting me or anybody. like me, that's part of me. Illustration is url. So when I was in the run up to do in venice and the british pavilion. That's all that got sad is the first black british female artist to represent britain, but nobody knows what I'd do if you just by that it doesn't matter what I do not share your just looking at me and not the word that I make in twenty
team. You hit the headlines sonya. Some of the staff you were working with on a project in the manchester art gallery, chose to temporarily remove jaded. We waters is painting hylas in the nymphs from the wall. Where is hanging ned session to take it away, came out of a wider conversation about who decides what work will be shown? Why was painting in particular, singled out to come down what the staff who public facing star Kept saying was well actually there's a kind of culture that is developing around this painting, where young teenage girls come and take selfies and then there's a comic losing culture that happens. My lot of MID middle aged men gathered also around those girls who taking photographs of themselves and as the conversations about no. There were members of staff as missing there were many male members of staff who, through all this, is not
serious, no serious, know think maybe you're exaggerating the debate until the very last when we vote sat there there's about thirty of us by this point, this man came around and he had an iphone where he was filming all of the paintings and sculptures where they were naked or semi naked women and making these very guttural sounds of like ooh, that's really gorgeous and obviously he was recording something and then he stops at this painting. I listen and ems and he's still making these guttural sounds and another member of the general public. Another man comes up to him and says you do know that they may be prepubescent girls
when he goes. Oh, that's even better at which point everybody it was sat there. We all sat there in the same gallery. Space said that painting has got to come down. So that's why that painting came down as part of a performance where there were lots of other things that happened exactly and then in in in the performance it comes down for a week and then it was replaced by post. It notes where people could talk about representation, people could kind of have their say and they could put their voice as it were. On on the gallery. Wall said the removal of the painting caused. You know fair amount of outrage, hullabaloo apps on social media, some sections of the press. Were you surprised by the response, because it was, it was massive It was mess. It was global. I was getting messages from all over the world. There were death threats to the staff. Did you get death threats, but I got a lot of quite horrible emails. Getting hounded by certain people
for well. Over a year now the police got involved or one point as we deal with them. I was really scared by four members of staff to receive their threats because of an action which didn't hurt anybody a painting came off the wall, and then it went back up and pay. The else respond that doesnt for my books doesn't warrant a death threat. Let's have some more music Sonia your seventh choice today. What's it going to be, is a song from my girls have got to two daughters? This is us or attract I korean baby way put your records on, and I love this track, and the girls love this and what I love about. It is the kind of message of just step into your own beauty is just joyful,
don't mind. Is current bailey way and put your records on son. You boy, seeping working steadily for forty years, but your success let us be annihilate. Put you in the international spotlights you winning entry was cold feeling her way and features improvise performances by five black female musicians. What did this recognition mean to you? I didn't really confused about what emerged in terms of venice
being off in the first place, to do the pavilion and then being awarded the golden lion. An amendment on the stage is thinking I don't know. What's going on right now, I just kind of you quite emotional too. I was very emotional. It goes back to the thing about being the first. Whatever, on the steps of the of the british pavilion and seen hundreds of people queuing to come to see the shared it broke me it's kind of thought and rewrites on site. I'm really feeling the weight of history right now and really saying: please don't mess up Sonia police don't mess up because I didn't know
I knew the I love what was doing, but I had no idea what was going to be judged, but just sudden thinking. Oh, I think this is a big deal. Your mother, at the beginning of your career, was anxious about you. Kind of making making trouble making yourself heard may be causing trouble. Did she keep any of your pieces huh? So this must have been in the eighties. She asked me to to do a picture for her and I thought, oh, that's, lovely, and then she handed me a postcard of a paul gauguin and she wanted me to do it. If you have it, which I did and so women my mum, she had dementia in later years and ended up having
going to a nursing home and the thing that she wanted to come with her was that picture? Oh, it was quite an emotional thing. It's like this was her painting. I finished, hopefully, should have gone back to gaga. By that point, but yeah. It's curious. I think she had come round in some ways, not just because of that particular work, but because of the fact that she realized that other people took it seriously. What I was doing now, I really feel that she was quite proud, you're very sociable. Sonny, I mean all of your work. Obviously we discussed involves collaborating with other people, but freedom gonna, send you to the solitude of the desert islands,
do you think you'll be on your own, I'm quite good and well. I think it's because I I there's always a little family in the house and people in the house when I was growing up that I would go to the quiet room and not myself The reading of cane records whatever and I can do long stretches online because I spent a considerable amount of time. Daydreaming well made love to you one more. For me before we send you to your island on your voice. What's your final choice can evade its Joe normal trading, loving action. I love the opening line to the song. This idea that you're looking at somebody in there looking at you, and they can be persuaded that it does actually won me off the relationship between I mean David that kind of interplay between He won't you shall some way which we still do even better,
as I even that he is always still that kind of little game, but also we she says, make love with affection, seeing someone that you want and that you clean. Somehow I love that I am not in the but I'm to persuasion. it was full romance and over
in june, one retracing love and affection, so Sonia boyce, the time has come and go to send you away to the island. I am giving you the bible, the complete works of shakespeare and he can take one of the book. What are you going to choose? I think it might be charlie and the chocolate factory. I won it as a prize at junior school, so it was the very first book I owned that I didn't have to tape at the library. I could read it whenever I wanted to and of course, charlie being ever hopeful in the when he thought is gonna give up. He hit gold, it's yours, I also have a luxury item. What will that be? I am partial to the champagne one. So if it could be some champagne, then I'll have said I mean that. Would that would ease the fact that this nobody else, I'm aiming it's never the wrong thing to take
I mean I'm miss everybody, but only up to a point. We're gonna do what you gonna do Finally, which one track of the eight that you ve shared with us today, would you say from the waves? Is that jazz by gills cohesion, this history, from which he jewels from his poetry with that history? Also, the connection between mean David and if I do only David, it's mine, but the song itself is a lost
me too, all that's gone past Sonia boys. Thank you very much for letting us hear your desert island discs. Vancouver was amazing. The hallow, I hope you enjoyed my conversation with sonya, will leave her to enjoy those bubbles and hope they do take her mind off the isolation we've cast away. the artists, including steep mcqueen, trees, yemen and leaving him eat. You can find these episodes in a desert. Island discs, programme archive and through BBC sounds the studio manager for today's programme was Jackie. Marjoram decision producer was tim banjo and the producer was pull him again. The next time I guessed will be the comedian, an actor robert wade.
I do hope. You'll join us, please a baking. I I've got a new some assistant for you who is worthy of our trust. I just that this is very We shady and there's something definitely wrong about this. You didn't believe as see well, I'm not a scammer have bypassing join me. Matthew side for the latest season of my bbc radio for podcast sideways seven news stories of seeing
well differently and the ideas that shape our lives. I need to figure out a way to really compensate them. Emeralds, I'm gonna be the scammer that I accuse him of being sideways on BBC sounds.
Transcript generated on 2023-03-30.