The Venice Biennale has recently gained a great deal of attention, with both Golden Lions, the top honours at the event, being awarded to Black women artists for the first time in history. This achievement has been seen as deeply personal by many, as it represents recognition for the artistic excellence of Black women in a field that has often overlooked them. These honours have been awarded to Sonia Boyce and Simone Leigh, whose work addresses a range of issues, including the impact of empire, misogyny, and homophobia, while foregrounding Black joy and solidarity. In addition, the practices of these artists have centred the collective, with much of their work being created in collaboration.
The importance of this recognition is further underscored by the fact that the author of the article was a principal patron of the UK Pavilion, and the first Black woman to hold such a position. She believed that one way to honour these artists was to bring together other Black women to stand behind them as patrons, creating a sense of community and solidarity. This year, the UK pavilion’s patrons list includes more Black women than ever before, emphasising the importance of supporting Black women artists and ensuring that their voices are heard.
Art as a Liberatory Practice:
The article also touches on the broader importance of art as a liberatory practice, particularly for marginalised communities. The author recalls her own experiences in a class taught by Mr. Ramiro Cruz, who used art to teach children about colonialism, imperialism, communism, and indigenous traditions. Through his teaching, the author learned that art can be a way to tell the truth and elevate overlooked voices. She notes that art, especially for marginalised communities, is necessary, and that this year’s Venice Biennale represents a momentous shift in recognising the importance of Black women’s artistic contributions.
The Importance of Diversity in Art:
The curator of the Venice Biennale, Cecelia Alemani, has been deliberate and fearless in programming majority female, non-binary, and indigenous artists, in contrast to previous decades where the majority of artists featured were white males. This year, countries like Cameroon, Uganda, and Namibia launched their first ever national pavilions, while the United Kingdom, Scotland, the U.S., France, and Switzerland all selected Black and North African women to show in their national pavilions for the first time. This emphasis on diversity is an important step in ensuring that art reflects the experiences and perspectives of a broader range of people.
The recognition of Black women artists at the Venice Biennale, as well as the broader emphasis on diversity in art, represents a significant shift in recognising the importance of elevating overlooked voices and creating a more equitable artistic landscape. Through their work, artists like Sonia Boyce and Simone Leigh are addressing a range of important issues, while foregrounding Black joy and solidarity. This recognition is important not only for the artists themselves, but for the broader community, as it serves to ensure that a wider range of voices are heard and that art continues to serve as a liberating practice for all.