Manchester Art Gallery
Sonia Boyce first gained prominence as part of the Black Arts Movement in the 1980s. The starting point for her solo exhibition in Manchester Art Gallery was a series of conversations about the Gallery’s collection and how it was displayed and interpreted. Boyce and a group of gallery staff were specifically interested in exploring how the politics of class, gender, race and sexuality in Manchester Art Gallery’s 18th and 19th century painting displays could be reconsidered today, as the displays have remained the same since the gallery reopened in 2002.
In January 2018 an evening gallery takeover took place. Performance artist Lasana Shabazz fictionalised the character of Ira Aldridge, a renowned 19th century Shakespearean actor, stepping out of his portrait as Othello, the Moor of Venice (1826) by James Northcote. Contemporary drag artists Anna Phylactic, Cheddar Gorgeous, Liquorice Black and Venus Vienna were also invited to respond to artworks of their choice. One of the six performative acts that night was the temporary removal of JW Waterhouse’s painting Hylas and the Nymphs (1896), which prompted a strong public reaction.
Boyce worked with documentation of the event to create the film and wallpaper installation Six Acts. Each of the six screens represents a performative ‘act’ that took place during the takeover. The wallpaper, mimicking Victorian designs, is a collage of photographs of the artists who performed during the evening juxtaposed with the leaves that Cheddar Gorgeous used as part of their performance.
Sonia Boyce MBE (b. 1962, London, UK) lives and works in London. Recent exhibitions include Manchester Art Gallery; Frieze London (both 2018); ICA, London (2017); 56th Venice Biennale (2015). Boyce is currently Professor of Black Art and Design at University of the Arts London and is the Principal Investigator for a three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project, ‘Black Artists and Modernism (BAM)’
Presented by the Contemporary Art Society, 2018/19