Sonia Boyce on using art to ‘process’ childhood trauma

Sonia Boyce said a piece of artwork helped her “process” sexual assault she suffered as a child.

The 1985 work, Mr Close-Friend-Of-The-Family Pays A Visit Whilst Everyone Else Is Out, is a charcoal drawing on paper created by 60-year-old award-winning artist Boyce for The Thin Black Line exhibition at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London.

Speaking about the work to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, she said: “I was remembering this incident that had happened, where a man, who was a close friend of the family, had come around to the house and nobody else was in the house and I’d let him in and he tried to rape me.

59th Venice Biennale
Sonia Boyce (British Council/PA)

“I would have been 12/13, something like that, and I never spoke about it.”

Boyce added: “I think it just came back to me and I didn’t really talk to anybody about what I was going to make for the show, I just turned up with this thing rolled up in a tube and put it up and then ran home.

“Because I felt, ‘I just need to say this at this moment’.”

Asked by presenter Lauren Laverne if the drawing helped Boyce process what happened, Boyce replied: “Yes, it did.

“I mean, I think that’s part of the whole thing about making art is that somehow you’re able to process things. So yes it did, it did help.”

After being encouraged to attend art school by her secondary school art teacher, Boyce went on to become the first black woman to enter the Tate’s permanent collection in 1987.

Last year, she represented Britain at the Venice Biennale art exhibition – the first black woman to do so.

Her exhibition, Feeling Her Way, was awarded the coveted Golden Lion award.

On the experience, Boyce said: “I’m genuinely confused about what emerged in terms of Venice.

“Being asked in the first place, to do the Pavilion, and then being awarded the Golden Lion.

“And I remember, I’m on the stage thinking, ‘I don’t know what’s going on right now’.”

She added: “It goes back to this thing about being the first whatever, on the steps of the British Pavilion and seeing hundreds of people queuing to come and see the show. It broke me.

“I just kind of thought, ‘I’m really feeling the weight of history right now’.”

Boyce chose eight tracks to take with her to the desert island, including Gil Scott-Heron’s Is That Jazz, Corinne Bailey Rae’s Put Your Records On and Dennis Brown’s Wolf And Leopards.

She chose champagne as her luxury item to take to the island.

Desert Island Discs airs on BBC Sounds and BBC Radio 4 at 11.15am on Sunday.