Radio Review: Artist Sonia Boyce and the binding power of music from our teenage years

Artist Sonia Boyce is an inspirational creative force
Artist Sonia Boyce is an inspirational creative force

Desert Island Discs

BBC Radio 4

To my shame, I came to this Desert Island Discs having never heard of artist Sonia Boyce. But I’ve heard of her now.

What a creative force she is and what great music she loves and I love... because music from a certain time in your teenage years binds your together.

Sonia Boyce was just 25 years old when the Tate made her one of the youngest artists and the first black women to enter its permanent collection. She took home the Golden Lion award from the Venice Biennale, a first in 30 years for the UK and a first woman of colour to win it.

Her parents arrived in the UK as part of the Windrush generation and as a child she drew incessantly. A teacher spotted her talent and got her into life drawing.

Her first choice was Lindisfarne's Meet Me On The Corner – she was very young and she saved up the money to buy that record. Okay, says she, it’s “a hippy kind of song”, but hey, I loved it.

Follow it up with Help Me Make It Through the Night – the John Holt version – and you just want to dance.

There was her love of Whitechapel Art Gallery – she went there on her own quite often when she was just seven or eight years old... it was the scale of the building, the light.

She would draw on any surface; she was forever drawing and at 15, her teacher suggested she go to art school.

On her first day, she stood at the door for half an hour waiting to be told she could enter. Once she ventured inside she saw a naked man – no-one had prepared her for life drawing.

Her spirit is fierce, her passion for art shines through and her music speaks for so many of us.

Louisa Mark conjures up a group of teenage girls – singing and dancing together - full of the joy of it.

There is darkness too.

Her work, Mr close-friend-of-the-family pays a visit while everyone else is out, concerns a man who came to the house when nobody was there and tried to rape her. She was 12 or 13 years old.

But in art you somehow process things, she said, so her artwork helped.

Alongside the darkness, there is joy, wonderful music and not a little champagne in this Desert Island Discs.