Permanent Collection Highlight: Sonia Boyce's Untitled

Sonia Boyce (b. 1962, London, UK)
Untitled (from the "Rivington Place Portfolio"), 2006
Hard, soft ground and spitbite etching on Pescia Magnani paper, 30 × 20 in.
Museum purchase with funds provided by the Acquisition Committee  2008.10.1

In her 2006 etching Untitled, Sonia Boyce pays tribute to fourteen Black female luminaries in British music history. Performers featured in the composition include Dame Shirley Bassey, DBE, Welsh pop singer known for recording several James Bond movie theme songs, such as the title theme for Goldfinger (1964); Adelaide Hall, American-born and UK-based jazz singer; Millie Small, Jamaican singer-songwriter who topped pop charts in the mid-1960s with her song “My Boy Lollipop”; Cleo Laine, British actress and Grammy award-winning singer, among others. The act of assembling such a collection, according to Boyce, is not intended to represent the musicians; rather, it is a nod to the collective memory built by their diverse audiences. The sinewy lines enshrining the names resemble connective tissue or sonic reverberations, suggesting that the artist’s personal act of inscription is also a making of a body of musical history. The stars, blot-like and tonal in comparison to the letters and lines, were created by spitbite aquatint. In this etching process, the artist unevenly applies acid to a rosin-based (aquatint) coating of a metal plate, exposing the areas of the surface to be printed. Boyce’s stars that speckle the page seem to represent the fame and accomplishments these women achieved.

Sonia Boyce is a painter and mixed media artist whose work deals with questions of history, British national identity, and Afrodiasporic experience. Her recent solo exhibition, Scat - Sonia Boyce: Sound and Collaboration, at the Institute of International Visual Arts (InIVA)’s Rivington Place,  featured video installations, including Oh Adelaide (2010) and Devotional Collection (2013) related to this print.

—Dana Liss