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30 April 2007

16 June - 25 November 2007
Room 37a. Free.

Celebrating black female singers in British entertainment, this unique display is the latest development in the 'Devotional Series', a body of work by the artist Sonia Boyce. The display takes the form of an elaborately hand-drawn installation on the gallery walls: a roll call of one hundred and eighty names. The names will be illustrated by portraits of several of the singers, among them Shirley Bassey, Joan Armatrading, Des'ree and Ms.Dynamite.

The Devotional Series began with a group of women from Liverpool, brought together with Sonia Boyce through the Motherlode project, in association with the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT). Asked to sing and recall the first record they ever bought, the women in the group began to build a collective map of black women in the British music industry. The first name to be nominated was Shirley Bassey and from that the Devotional Series began.

Today the list contains 180 names. It has been produced twice (in different forms) and both of these lists (Devotional and Devotional II) now belong to the Government Art Collection. Each name celebrates an icon; each icon triggers a song; and each song a moment that is as significant to a personal memory as it is to a generation's collective memory. Ranging from the infamous to the unsung, from the early part of the twentieth century to the present, the Devotional Series is a group portrait that upholds the existence, the pleasures and the persistence of women who choose to sing.

For the first time, with this installation at the National Portrait Gallery, London, Devotional will include nineteen photographic portraits of singers included in the series. Representing the work of prominent photographers working in the music industry, these portraits will include works by Bob Collins, Pennie Smith, Kofi Allen, Albert Watson and Andy Earl.

As a body of work, the Devotional Series is a mutable concept, continually re-designing itself to embody aspects of its host, in this case the National Portrait Gallery's Photographic Collection. As the culmination of a decade of gathering, Sonia Boyce will tailor this new piece as a special appraisal of the series so far. The inscription of the names directly onto the Gallery walls will commence at the beginning of June and take approximately two weeks.

Eddie Otchere, Assistant Curator and Inspire Fellow, says: 'To curate a display like this, is to develop a sensitivity with the subjects of the Devotional Series. Through their songs you engage with the source of their meaning and power. By collecting their iconography you present their histories through portrait photography.'

Sonia Boyce (b.1962) is a British artist of African-Caribbean descent, living and working in London. Her early pastel drawings and photographic collages address issues of race, ethnicity and contemporary urban experience, questioning racial stereotypes in the media and in day-to-day life. Most recently her work has shifted to incorporate a variety of media that combine photographs, collages, films, prints, drawings, installation and sound. Sonia has worked with other people in what she likes to call 'improvised collaborations', bringing the audience into sharper focus as an integral part of the creative process and demonstrating how cultural difference might be articulated, mediated and enjoyed.

Devotional opens to the public on Saturday 16 June 2007.

The display will be accompanied by a programme of events, including an Artist's Talk by Sonia Boyce on Thursday 28 June (Tickets available by calling 020 7306 0055). A range of merchandise, featuring exclusive designs by Sonia Boyce, will be available in the National Portrait Gallery shop (

The display is supported by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

National Portrait Gallery opening hours
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am - 6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10am - 9pm (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Recorded information: 020 7312 2463 General information : 020 7306 0055 Website: Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross

For further press information please contact: Catherine Bromley, Press Office, National Portrait Gallery Tel: 020 7321 6620 (not for publication) Email: [email protected]

Notes to Editors:

The full list of sitters represented in photographic portraits is as follows: Adelaide Hall, Evelyn Dove, Elisabeth Welch, Winifred Atwell, Cleo Laine, Shirley Bassey, Bertice Reading, Millie Small, Poly Styrene, Janet Kay, Joan Armatrading, Linda Lewis, Neneh Cherry, Sade, Mica Paris, Des'ree, Floetry, Ms. Dynamite and Leona Lewis.
Sonia Boyce's previous works include: Missionary Position 2 (1985), Tate Collection; From Tarzan to Rambo (1985) Tate Collection; She ain't holding them up, she's holding on (some English rose) 1986, Cleveland Museum Collection; Clapping Wallpaper (1994), Victoria & Albert Museum Collection; Lovers' Rock - wallpaper (1998), Victoria & Albert Museum Collection; Devotional (1999-2004) and Devotional II (2005), Government Art Collection.
Her latest work, For you, only you, a sound and video installation produced by the Ruskin School and developed in collaboration with the early music consort Alamire and the sound artist Mikhail Karikis, was performed at Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford University, in April and will be premiered at the De La Warr Pavilion, East Sussex in September 2007.



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