Friday, 2 October 2015

Artistic Insight: Sonia Boyce's 'She ain't holding them up, She's holding on (Some English Rose)'

Artistic Insight: One of our volunteers takes a closer look at  Sonia Boyce's work, interpreting its themes and significance. Sonia Boyce is one of the keynote speakers at the 10th Annual Huntley Conference happening on the 10/10/2015. Buy your tickets and find out more here. 

Sonia Boyce’s work is featured in No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960 – 1990. An English painter and multi-media artist, Boyce’s work explores themes of religion, politics and sexuality. She also explores her Caribbean and British identity, notable for bringing the experience of a black woman to the forefront of British art from the 1980's onwards. 

Sonia Boyce
She ain’t holding them up, She’s holding on (Some English Rose), 1986
Pastel and Gouache on Paper, Middleborough Institute of Modern Art (currently at No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960 – 1990, Guildhall Art Gallery)

Boyce’s pastel self-portrait She ain’t holding them up, She’s holding on (Some English Rose) explores her existence within her family structure and her identity as both Black and British and how this manifests within her domestic life. 

Sonia Boyce’s pastel drawing depicts a young girl holding up her family with strong musculature arms, abstracted on a brown tiled background. A glimpse of a tropical landscape can be seen in the left top-hand corner, the deep blue sky contrasting with the earthy tones of the rest of the painting. Boyce’s depiction of her family is comprised of a mother and father, with two young girls perched upon his lap – the four of them dressed in smart clothing, as if ready to leave for church or posing for a family photo.  The young girl wears a deep red dress, patterned with thick black roses – alluding to the title and the English expression of ‘An English Rose’, a term for a classical and anglicised beauty.

Boyce’s pose almost mimics the classical pose of Atlas holding up the globe from Greek mythology, suggesting the emotional weight of the young girls support of her family. It conjures up Boyce’s own perception of her responsibility to them as the oldest daughter, whilst at odds with her youthful independence She is simultaneously connected to them, through the placement of her hands and distanced through perspective. Her frontal enlarged position places her at the centre of her family, but her connection to England, eluded to by the roses on her dress, suggest the different cultural identities at play within the family unit. The young girl is the link to the English world, presumably having grown up her as the child of migrants, whose experience of her families’ homeland is received only through her parents experience and mythic story telling. They recede into the picture frame, placed further back and closer to the tropical landscape that is almost out of sight.

The uncertain perspective, which appears to recede whilst remaining flat, is complicated by the view through this window. Through this, the works unstable perspective explores a confusion of identity and cultural displacement. It also demonstrates a surrealist influence, notably that of Rene Magritte who explored the ambivalence of appearance and reality in works such as This is Not A Pipe (1928 – 9). However, the girls assured stance, unfaltering gaze and strength demonstrates how her identity as a Black Englishwoman allows her to identify with both the African diaspora and the country she was born in. Boyce is not one or the other, nor is she limited by the mono-national conceptions of identity and Boyce goes even further to reframe the definition of an ‘English Rose’, emphasising that it is not beauty and strength mutually exclusive to a pale completion.

Sonia Boyce is one of the keynote speakers at the 10th Annual Huntley Conference happening on the 10/10/2015. Buy your ticket and find out more here.

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