New artworks by Sonia Boyce on view at Apalazzo Gallery until February 18, 2023
Following Feeling Her Way at the British Pavilion, the Golden Lion winner for best national participation at the 59th Venice Biennale, Sonia Boyce presents The Disorderly, a new solo exhibition at Apalazzo gallery in Brescia. The show consists of two video installations brought together with printed wallpapers and a new body of digital photographs.
The gallery presents Crop Over (2007) a two-screen video installation with Shaggy Bear Wallpaper (2021) and a re-working of one of the performances from Six Acts (2018) titled Ain’t Misbehavin’ (2022) a two-screen video installation with wallpaper. Crop Over (2007) looks at the relationship between the Lascelles Family – the owners of Harewood House, a stately home in Leeds, England, and slavery in Barbados, the Caribbean. From the perspective of Barbados, the legacies of slavery through sugar plantation life can be seen in longstanding folkloric characters like Shaggy Bear, the Mother Sally, Donkey-Man and Stilt- Walker. As the films unfold, cultural historians comment on these characters who appear throughout the Barbadian Crop Over harvest festival. These commentators give us a brief insight into Crop Over’s history and contemporary meaning. The quiet tempo of pastoral scenes and grand manors in the films shift as we arrive at the pinnacle of the harvest festival, Kadooment Day. We are submerged into the dazzling world of Mas bands and sensorial street revellers.
The Disorderly, also reconsiders Six Acts (2018) a project that attracted world-wide attention for the take down of a Pre-Raphaelite painting Hylas and the Nymphs (1896) by John William Waterhouse held by Manchester Art Gallery. Boyce has re-worked the performance documentation to re-stage a sense of reverie and abundance that characterises the other performances of that night by Lasana Shabazz and the drag collective Family Gorgeous (Cheddar Gorgeous, Anna Phylactic, Venus Vienna and Liquorice Black). Lasana Shabazz begins the films Ain’t Misbehavin’ (2022) in front of a painted portrait of a black male, the first work of art to enter the collection of the Manchester Art Gallery in the nineteenth century. The painting by James Northcote Othello, The Moor of Venice (1826) was originally titled “The Moor” meaning simply “The Black”. The anonymity inherent in the title was changed after museum curators discovered that it was a portrait of the celebrated 19th-century Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge, who had a prolific career first in the US where he was born, and then in the UK. Shabazz appears in drag, a performative mode that is often associated with Shakespearean theatre when females were forbidden to publicly appear on stage and, instead, males played female roles. Aldridge, as a performer, was also known to appear as a black-face minstrel – a racist caricature of African Americans typically performed by white actors – he also performed in white-face when he played white characters on stage. Shabazz delves into these complex and contradictory identity formations as he interacts with the invited audience, who are coerced into responding to his uncomfortable prompts.
Across both projects, transgressions proliferate. They un-mask and resist binaries, instead releasing historical constraints and conditions, whether that is about the imagined certainties of race or gender or sexuality – and criss- cross between the everyday and the extraordinary.