VENICE — The artist Sonia Boyce won Britain the top prize at the Venice Art Biennalethe world’s longest-running and most high-profile international exhibition of contemporary art.
“Feeling Her Way” — a sound installation of five Black British female musicians singing a cappella — took the Golden Lion for best national participation. Boyce is the first Black woman to represent Britain at the Venice event.
Saturday’s other big prize, the Golden Lion for best artist in the Biennale’s central exhibition, was won by the American artist Simone Leigh for her “powerfully persuasive monumental sculptural opening to the Arsenale,” one of the two main exhibition sites. The artist presented her de ella work de ella “Brick House,” a 16-foot-tall bronze of a Black woman with cornrows and a dome-shaped torso that combines the forms of a skirt and a clay house. It was first seen on the High Line in New York in 2019. Leigh is also representing the United States at this year’s event, so she has a show of her own in the American Pavilion.
“I have been around the block a few times, but this is probably the biggest commission I’ve ever done,” Boyce said in a telephone interview after the ceremony. “That was really a glorious challenge.”
“The project at the center of the pavilion is about the question of collective remembering, and resisting the erasure of women’s voices within the British music system,” she added. “It’s not just me celebrating.”
The Biennale’s five-person jury was steered this year by Adrienne Edwards, the director of curatorial affairs at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and a curator of the 2022 Whitney Biennial.
In announcing the awards, which were live-streamed on Saturday from Venice, Edwards said that Boyce offered “another reading of histories through the sonic.”
“In working collaboratively with other Black women,” Edwards said, Boyce “unpacks a plenitude of silenced stories.”
The Venice Biennale was founded in 1895 as an exhibition of new art from around the world. As the number of participating artists grew, other countries built pavilions for them, Belgium being the first in 1907.
There are 80 national pavilions at this year’s event, which was originally planned for 2021 but was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Biennale’s two-part central exhibition is curated each time by a different artistic director. This year’s director is the Italian-born Cecilia Alemani (the director and chief curator of New York’s High Line Art), who has taken the opportunity to reverse more than a century of male artistic domination and put on a show in which nine out of every 10 artists are women.
At the awards ceremony on Saturday, the Silver Lion for promising young participant in the central exhibition went to the Lebanese artist Ali Cherri, who presented a multichannel video focusing on a seasonal brickmaker in Sudan whose story overlaps with that of the construction of a monumental dam .
The jury — which also included Lorenzo Giusti, Julieta González, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and Susanne Pfeffer — gave out four additional awards.
Special mentions for national participations went to France, represented by Zineb Sedira, an artist of Algerian descent, and to Uganda, represented by the artists Acaye Kerunen and Collin Sekajugo.
Special mentions for artists went to Shuvinai Ashoona, who produces fantastical drawings that evoke her Inuit community and culture, and to Lynn Hershman Leesona San Francisco-based artist who works with technology and artificial intelligence.
In March, Golden Lion awards for lifetime achievement were awarded to the artists Katharina Fritsch and Cecilia Vicuña.
The Venice Biennale runs through Nov. 27.