at home: Artists in Conversation | Sonia Boyce and Simone Leigh

February 4, 2022

Artists Sonia Boyce OBE RA and Simone Leigh in conversation with Courtney J. Martin, Paul Mellon Director, Yale Center for British Art. Boyce and Leigh will represent the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively, at the fifty-ninth Venice Biennale, opening in April 2022.

at home: Artists in Conversation

Join us for lively and inspiring conversations with some of today’s most notable artists. at home: Artists in Conversation brings together curators and artists to discuss various artistic practices and insights into their work.

About Sonia Boyce

Born in 1962, Boyce OBE RA is a British Afro-Caribbean artist who lives and works in London. In 1980, she completed a foundation course in art and design at East Ham College of Art and Technology, and in 1983, she received a BA in fine art from the former Stourbridge College in Stourbridge, England. Between 2012 and 2017, Boyce was professor of fine art at Middlesex University, and since 2014, she has been professor at the University of the Arts London and the inaugural chair of Black Art & Design. She led a three-year research project into Black artists and modernism, which prompted the BBC documentary Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? Britain’s Hidden Art History (2018). Boyce explores art as a social practice and the debates that arise from this area of research. She has an innovative and experimental approach to artmaking and uses performance and audio-visual elements in her work. Since the 1990s, her practice has become increasingly improvisational and collaborative; she encourages participants to come together and move, sing, or speak in relation to the past and the present. This participatory approach raises questions about artistic authorship and cultural differences.

In 1998 Boyce was part of an exhibition co-organized by the YCBA and Yale University Art Gallery titled The Unmapped Body: 3 Black British Artists along with artists Keith Piper and Sutapa Biswas. In 2018, Boyce’s major retrospective at Manchester Art Gallery stirred controversy when J. W. Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs (1896) was temporarily removed from public view as part of Boyce’s project. The idea was to encourage discussion about how paintings are displayed and in what context. The withdrawal of Waterhouse’s painting formed the basis of Boyce’s six-screen film and wallpaper installation Six Acts (2018). 

In 2016, Boyce was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts, London and received a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists. In 2019, Boyce received an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to art in the Queen’s New Year Honors List, as well as an honorary doctorate from the Royal College of Art. Her work appears in the collections of the Arts Council England, Tate Modern, and Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 

About Simone Leigh

Born in Chicago in 1967, Leigh is an American artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. In 1990, she received a BA in fine art with a minor in philosophy from Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, where she trained in traditional ceramics. Leigh works primarily with sculpture, installation, and video to foreground the Black female experience, often incorporating cultural iconographies such as cowrie shells, plantains, and tobacco leaves to create objects and environments that reframe stereotypes. Leigh has described her style as autoethnographic. Her performance-influenced installations create spaces where historical precedent and self-determination comingle.

Leigh is a recipient of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant (2018), Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize (2017), John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2016), and Anonymous Was A Woman Award (2016).  Recent projects and exhibitions include Simone Leigh (2020) at David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; Whitney Biennial (2019) at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon (2017) at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; Psychic Friends Network (2016) at Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, London; Simone Leigh: The Waiting Room (2016) at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; The Free People’s Medical Clinic (2014), a project commissioned by Creative Time; inHarlem: Simone Leigh, a public installation presented by The Studio Museum in Harlem at Marcus Garvey Park, New York; and a solo exhibition at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Leigh’s work was featured in Loophole of Retreat, a major exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, to commemorate her achievements as the winner of the Hugo Boss Prize 2018. Leigh is the first artist to be commissioned for the High Line Plinth, a new landmark destination for major public artworks in New York, where her monumental sculpture Brick House was on view from June 2019 to May 2021.

This program is presented through the generosity of the Terry F. Green 1969 Fund for British Art and Culture.