Afro-Caribbean roots are alive and well at the Venice Biennale. Julia Halperin and Naomi Rea (Artnet) reports that Sonia Boyce and Simone Leigh recently won Golden Lions at the Venice Biennale for work honoring the visions of Black women. There were also special mentions for best national participation went to France’s Zineb Sedira and Uganda’s Acaye Kerunen and Collin Sekajugo.
The U.K. pavilion and American artist Simone Leigh won the top prizes at this year’s Venice Biennale. Sonia Boyce, who represented the U.K. with a multimedia installation dedicated to five Black female musicians, accepted the Golden Lion for best national participation in the event. Simone Leigh was recognized for her 16-foot-tall bronze bust Brick House, which opened the main exhibition in the Arsenale.
The five-person jury chaired by Whitney Museum curator Adrienne Edwards commended Boyce for raising “important questions of rehearsal” as opposed to perfectly tuned music, as well as for creating “relations between voices in the form of a choir in the distance.”
Boyce’s pavilion opens with a four-channel video chronicling a recording session in the studio where Abbey Road was made. Musicians Jacqui Dankworth, Poppy Ajudha, Sofia Jernberg, Tanita Tikaram, and composer Errollyn Wallen experiment with sound and breath, seemingly in real time. The subsequent rooms focus on individual performers, creating an evolving, overlapping soundtrack as the audience moves through the space.
In her acceptance speech, Boyce thanked the late curator Okwui Enwezor, who offered her early encouragement. After the ceremony, Boyce told Artnet News that her collaborators’ performances were born out of a simple question: “As a woman, as a Black person, what does freedom feel like? How can you imagine freedom?”
Simone Leigh accepted the Golden Lion for the best participation in the central exhibition. Her monumental Brick House—originally commissioned for New York’s High Line, where Alemani serves as curator—opened the Arsenale portion of the exhibition.
Leigh, who is also representing the United States in its national pavilion, thanked mentors including the late curator Bisi Silva, the late collector Peggy Cooper Cafritz, and curator Rashida Bumbray, who is organizing a convening of Black thinkers and makers this fall as part of the programming for the U.S. pavilion. [. . .]
Two pavilions were granted special recognition: France and Uganda. Both exhibitions represented important firsts. Zineb Sedira, whose joyous installation was a tribute to post-colonial film, is the first Algerian artist to represent France at the Biennale. [. . .]
[Photos above: 1) The Golden Lion for the best national pavilion was awarded to Great Britain at the 59th Art Biennale with the artist Sonia Boyce. Photo by Felix Hörhager/picture alliance via Getty Images. 2) Simone Leigh’s Brick House greets visitors in the opening gallery. Photo by Ben Davis.]