Sonia Boyce @ Manchester Art Gallery


Emoji summary: 🌌🔦🎆

I normally write about an exhibition over a week;; i sit on my review and make it warm with my bum until it reads how I want, and then im good to publish. But I’m writing this on the train back from attending the press preview for the new Sonia Boyce retrospective at Manchester Art Gallery and i can super-concentrate on a train, probably bc there is no internet, so i’m happy 2 publish right away. I also don’t have a lot to say, this will be a very cordial text from here on out:

because the exhibition was like: you know when you start dating someone or say you make a new friend, and they themselves are great. so much to them, full, kind and interesting,, the conversation cannot fall out of your mouths quick enough. and soon you go round to their house for the first time and u get excited to because space can be a part of ourselves;; so you wonder if they will have a funny shower curtain, or plain cushions or ones with motifs, potted plants, candles, a whiteboard that organises their life, a sewing machine idk. What colour will their bed sheets be, I truly have to know. (always always go to the toilet in a restaurant even if you don’t really need to go, how else will you be able to tell people what it was like - as a whole). Well, I don’t think Manchester Art Gallery have done Sonia Boyce justice - I didn’t see the personality of her art in the curation at all. And there wasn’t even an attempt made: the navy walls and imprisoning lighting were the exact same as the previous exhibition for Neha Choksi. When wallpaper has been a running outcome of Boyce’s practice, why weren’t the walls decorated, why did they not become her. There was a tiny run of wallpaper around two pieces, but one was def kept to a minimum and hidden in its own little shed, so frankly it doesn’t count. But keeping things to a minimum and masking the edges felt like the tone of the show, which is danggggerous when white curator is showing female black artist. This was supposed to be a retrospective but the exhibition only held a few major works, bordered and individual, no coming togetherness; no sensible literal curation on how pieces can bounce off of one another which makes no sense when Sonia Boyce’s art is like, constant group hugs and shining light on other artists, helping them land in great landscapes and settings; all generous productions. No, u can’t have a few old artworks and call it a retrospective - you gotta pull out the baby photos and embarrassing stories like it’s a wedding speech. the air needs to be recognisably the artist’s air, not Manchester Art Gallery’s, that’s intrusive. if you bring an artist in step back and represent them properly. make them feel celebrated, renowned. canonise the shit out of them with metaphorical canons, go the whole way.

The work itself was ofc brilliant, involving, optimistic and at times awkward in a good way. i also love an intervention artist, so I have reeeeally enjoyed the recent work Boyce has done with MAG, most notably taking down that painting of nymphs that made the actual BBC cause every sweaty man got his knickers in a twist over it. the other moments in this commission that had performers in the galleries etc are all documented in a multi-channel video called Six Acts, which was very well balanced - but at the same time i think a bigger curatorial fuss should have been made over it, especially when the time this film will be most relevant is here and now in the gallery it has been made. it should be the first thing you see when you walk in, it should continue to get in the way of the visitor and challenge and energise their experience in an exhibition - not tucked away in a dark corner, playing on small screens. I also wanna mention the black and white images that saw an open call for participants at the Cornerhouse in 1997, inviting people to come and be photographed wearing an afro wig. /still needs to be exhibited again and again because like, even this press preview was all white/. but that was the ‘awkward in a good way’ art I was feeling, art that is knowing, fighting. it is valuable.

and so i don’t say any of this to put you off going, honestly, and i worry that what I’ve written will do that but no, these words are for the curatorial team to say i didn’t feel right in this - i loved the work but you just put it in a vast hall and turned the lights off, and i felt lost and disappointed. but it is a very important show and still i feel v grateful that the art exists in the world, u kno? ok my train is getting into lime street go visit it and tell me what u think!

exhibition is on until july 22

you have literally ages

a painting of naked women in a pond full of lily pads with long hair and there is a robed mean leaning into the water, and one of he women at the front has a hand on his arm as if greeting him or bringing him in
a black man in a white robe puts an arm out in front of a painting in a performance
a bright pink lily around pads on a dual screen projection

tonnes of images of women and copies of magazine pages are stuck like posters at the end of planks of wood that are all leaning against walls, piled out top of each other and filling the walls