Sonia Boyce, Devotional Collection, 2022 / Photo Credits: Cristiano Corte © British Council
May 3 – Sep 8, 2024
PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art
Montréal, Canada

The PHI Foundation for Contemporary Art is pleased to present the North American premiere of FEELING HER WAY by Sonia Boyce DBE RA. FEELING HER WAY (2022) is an immersive installation consisting of bespoke wallpaper, posters, photography, sculpture, video, and sound, which was awarded the prestigious Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia in 2022.

Taking over the PHI Foundation’s gallery spaces, located at 465 Saint-Jean Street in Old Montréal, this monumental work invites us into a sumptuous visual and sonic polyphony that centres around the vocal performances and improvisation of four acclaimed Black female singers: Poppy Ajudha, Jacqui Dankworth MBE, Sofia Jernberg, and Tanita Tikaram. These four women, who normally work as soloists, were brought together, and met for the first time to do something they had never done before; take part in a session of improvised vocalizations led by vocal composer Errollyn Wallen CBE. For singers who have spent years honing their personal sound and working within the comfort zones of a score or song, improvisation can be incredibly intimidating, as it compels a singer to let go of inhibitions and, above all, “perfection.” What Sonia Boyce set up for the singers, and subsequently shares with us in this work, are the conditions of possibility for experimentation and play, the opportunity to use their voices as never before, and to experience the joy and anxiety of letting go, together.

Single and multi-channel videos, photo portraits, and posters punctuate our visitor journey through an environment adorned in exuberantly coloured geometric-patterned wallpaper, one created for each woman. Another key component encountered throughout, are dazzling sculptural elements made to resemble pyrite, a crystalline mineral also referred to as “fool’s gold.” One entire room is inspired by Sonia’s collaborative project Devotional Collection (1999-ongoing), which consists of an ever-growing archive that pays homage to Black British female musicians and singers, as well as the fans, to whom their work means so much. In this space is a custom gold wallpaper design, and a display of sculptures that consist of items in their original packaging combined with crystalline “fool’s gold” forms. Our faces are mirrored in the reflective surfaces of the sculptures and wallpaper and bring us into the work as members of the listening public.

Trust, agency, and generosity are at the heart of FEELING HER WAY, demonstrating what can happen when these crucial values are established between the artist and her collaborators. The work becomes a giant, multi-sensorial instrument of connection, kinship, and freedom, while also allowing each woman’s unique identity to breathe and resonate. Through a willingness to take risks, what might we learn about ourselves? Might we find our own voices? Could we contribute that voice to a larger chorus? In doing so, might we find freedom?

Initiated and organized by the PHI Foundation, this is Sonia Boyce’s first major exhibition in North America, and kicks off a tour of the work to venues across Canada. Following its presentation in Montréal, the exhibition will travel to the Art Gallery of Ontario as part of the Toronto Biennial of Art in September 2024, and to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in June 2025.

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