Lubaina Himid and Sonia Boyce, Pioneers of Black British Art — I AM History

The pioneering Lubaina Himid and Sonia Boyce paved the way for Black women artists in Britain. Both have incredible work on display this year that you absolutely must see.

Sonia Boyce’s exhibition In The Castle Of My Skin (11 June 2021–12 September 2021) is currently on show at MIMA — the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. Next year she will also be the first Black female artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale.

Boyce works with a variety of media — drawing, print, photography, video and audio. Born in 1962 in Islington, London, in a British Afro-Caribbean family, she was always drawing as a child, and at 17 decided to study art, joining a Foundation Course in Art & Design at East Ham College of Art and Technology in 1979, before starting a BA in Fine Art at the prestigious Stourbridge College in the West Midlands. Soon, Sonia took part in the wider Black British cultural “renaissance”, a movement that arose out of Margaret Thatcher’s conservatism, with the likes of Eddie Chambers and Horace Ové.

In 1982, she attended the first national conference of Black artists and met Lubaina Himid, then a leading figure promoting the work of Black women artists. In 1985, Himid selected some of Boyce’s works for the exhibition The Thin Black Line, at the ICA. In 1987, at only 25, Boyce had her first drawing bought by Tate Modern, Missionary Position II, becoming the first British Black female artist to enter the collection. Since the 1990s, her work has been largely exhibited in the UK and abroad.

Lubaina Himid’s next exhibition will land at the Tate Modern in London on 25 November 2021. Born in Zanzibar in 1954, she moved to Britain as a child with her parents in the 1960s and grew up in London. She studied theatre design, before entering the Royal Art College. From then, she never stopped supporting other Black artists’ debuts, including Sonia Boyce, Sutapa Biswas, Claudette Johnson, Veronica Ryan and Ingrid Pollard.

These past five years, she received superb praises for her wonderful exhibitions Navigating Charts, Naming The Money and Invisible Strategies. The pieces addressed the trauma and memory of slavery, touring the UK for year. “I was, very early on, a political teenager,” Lubaina Himid told me a few years ago. “In the 80s, the political situation was extreme in the UK for minorities. Working with Black artists was luckily never a lonely path: We did some early collaborative exhibitions with the Black Art Group, the Black Art Gallery in London, Nottingham, and Bristol. It was the opposite of lonesome. But it was a battle.”

This is still true today. But these pioneers are now seconded by a new generation, as vivid and creative.

Summary of exhibition details below:

Originally published at on July 30, 2021.

Freelance journalist/writer, I’ve reported in 30 countries for the BBC, CBC, DW, magazines, on African-European relations, social change, arts, music & politics

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