Air Gallery', Art Forum, vol. One kneels in prayer with eyes closed. The other half-reclines, stretching out her right arm towards the face of her companion. Positioned between them at the top edge of the picture is a blue crucifix. Above the heads of the women, who are dressed in brightly coloured clothes, are two ornamental birds, cropped by the top edge of the picture. To the left is a table lamp with a bust of a black girl as its base.
The patterns of the warm pink wallpaper and of the orange paisley carpet enhance the artist's decorative use of high-keyed colour in this work. T was made between January and February in Plaistow, London, where Boyce was living with her parents.
It took approximately two weeks to execute, although the time spent in preparation for the work was much longer. The image was conceived more or less completely before its execution.
In preparation she made separate sketches, no more than 10 x 10 cm in size, of each figure and the various elements that make up the composition. These were then projected onto a sheet of paper fixed to the wall by means of an epidiascope, which functions like an overhead projector. The figures were traced onto the sheet first and the rest of the composition was organised around them.
Boyce has drawn the figure from life since fifteen years of age. In conversation with the compiler on 4 January she commented that the process of enlargement, however, sometimes reveals inaccuracies in her drawing. She noticed, for example, that the outstretched arm of the figure on the right looks broken. Nevertheless, she felt that this awkwardness added to the tension between the three-dimensionality and the flatness of the image, which was part of her intention.
Before working in pastel Boyce gave the paper a watercolour wash of red, purple or orange in order to achieve the dark rich tones she desired. The watercolour provided a base for the effective depiction of dark skin colour. Boyce was born in Islington, London of Caribbean parents, her mother from Barbados, her father from Guyana.
Critics interpreted the works as autobiographical narratives depicting the personal experiences of a young black woman growing up in a white dominated society. However, she felt that some critics' responses had oversimplified the possible meanings of her pictures. She wanted her works to instigate discussion of the issues they addressed. In an interview given in she said: African culture has a strong oral tradition; and in this sense I'm trying to be an oral translator through pictures.
I gather things up which I remember, as a means of going forward to make certain cultural and political points. I'm making visible the warmth, as well as the confrontation of our daily lives as the basis upon which things can be discussed. The large drawings shown at the Air Gallery were the culmination of Boyce's efforts to visualise certain experiences that she had never seen depicted.
When attending a foundation course at East Ham College of Art she was impressed by the work of visiting lecturer Margaret Harrison, artist and former lecturer at the College, precisely because it dealt with subjects that Boyce had not seen represented before. She admired Cassatt's use of pastels and her contribution, as part of the Impressionist movement, to the development of a modern idiom.
Through her reading of feminist histories of art, increasingly available in the early s, Boyce learnt of the historical and political significance of the medium of pastel for women artists. She understood that the virtual exclusion of female artists from academies of art, and thereby from the means of mastering oil painting , meant that they had taken up other media such as pastel.
Women were denied access to the life class and were, therefore, less able to produce grand history paintings that required accurate depiction of the human body. By adopting the medium of pastel Boyce was consciously referring to a specific aspect of the history of women artists in the Western tradition of art.
Her decision to produce figurative pastel works on a large scale was partly a comment on the traditional expectations of both women artists and the traditionally less important medium of pastel. When asked by the compiler about the size of her works she replied: I actually like doing large scale work.
When I say large scale, I mean large scale for pastels, which is why people often think that they are paintings. It's not particularly large for painting but it is for pastel.
I mean, you're talking about a millimetre at a time: But I liked the prospect that people would be confused. During the early s Boyce was also profoundly influenced by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo She saw a retrospective exhibition of Kahlo's paintings at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in and was immediately struck by the work. Kahlo's art is figurative and often naive in style, like traditional Mexican art.
Although her paintings focus on her personal trials and sufferings, Kahlo also brought to her work an awareness of the cultural and political effects of colonialism in her native country.
Boyce's admiration for Kahlo was partly stimulated by her interest in feminist discussions and activities in In conversation with the compiler Boyce commented: Seeing her work led me to doing what I did, because up until that point I didn't actually have a very strong direction.
I had ideas, but I didn't have a direction in terms of developing visually. The Other Story, exh. She has commented about her own size and colour in relation to her work: Later, on the degree course, the tutors were dismissive. I was black, therefore I wasn't there. I drew my feet very big on a patterned background. Being a black woman is a perpetual struggle to be heard and appreciated as a human being My life was shaken by the foundation course. I started doing self- portraits.
I needed to see myself. It was only for expediency that they were really'. She prefers to interpret her self-portraits and the everyday objects included in her pictures as containers for ideas, as symbols as much as descriptions. In this series Boyce hoped to address a number of conflicting situations and ideas centering on her experience of religion within her own community, and in relation to British society as a whole.
Her family were, and still are, practising Christians of different denominations including Pentecostal, Methodist and Jehovah's Witness. She wanted to try to establish why it was that they did not share the aversion she and a number of her black friends at college felt towards the Christian faith.
Although she did not produce a five-part series as intended, Boyce feels that her original idea was realised, to a certain extent, through other works made during the mids that dealt with such issues as the influence of social institutions, home and school, the problem of authority, and the power relationship between parent and child.
The title of T was chosen to suggest implicit rather than explicit meanings for the work. The allusion to missionaries is thought to relate to the strict codes of sexual propriety introduced by Catholic missionaries in Polynesia in the nineteenth century.
Certainly, the missionaries were appalled by the extent of nudity and apparent promiscuity. They insisted on segregating the sexes and imposing full European dress, which proved deleterious to the mental and physical health of the indigenous peoples. T specifically addresses the issue of power relationships. It's about all those things overlapping in a way and for me, at that time, that was what Christianity signified'.
Boyce's antipathy towards Christianity stems from her belief that it enabled imperialism to take hold in Africa. In the mids she read a number of books which examined how missionaries provided a framework for white hegemony by establishing economic, social and cultural control in certain rural areas.
Boyce had not specifically discussed the subject with Chambers but feels that it was very topical at the time owing to increased awareness of black history and black issues.
The latter was specifically concerned to establish the idea of a black culture and to combat racism. In T the two young women are separated by a cross on the wall. This was not derived from an actual object but invented by Boyce to form a central pivot in her composition.
Three of the four panels that make up this piece refer to Britain's colonies in Africa, India and Australia: Boyce's inscription at the bottom of T encourages the reader to consider the political nature of religion: Laard but look my trials nuh - they say keep politics out of religion and religion out of politics but when were they ever seperate?
Boyce intended to suggest her ambiguity towards her family's Christian beliefs through the placement of the two figures. The one on the left prays with eyes closed, ignoring the other, whose arm stretches out towards her. Similarly, although the second figure seems to want to communicate with the young woman in prayer, her ear has been left unfinished by the artist, scrubbed out, suggesting that despite her efforts she cannot or will not hear. In conversation with the compiler Boyce said that she wished to imply a failure of communication between the two protagonists, hoping that this would give a sense of the frustration and confusion she had felt as a result of her Christian upbringing.
At the same time, she wanted to suggest a lack of discussion about religious beliefs in general. The title of the work, with its reference to patriarchal dominance, together with the androgynous appearance of the praying figure, has prompted several critics to identify the figure as male see, for example, Tawadros , p.
However, the artist used herself as the model for both figures and thought of them as representing one person. The praying figure wears imagined ordinary clothes, a purple cap, yellow top and blue shirt.
The reclining figure wears a red, patterned dress belonging to the artist that suggests traditional African costume. But, for the artist, the red turban is more significant than the dress as this type of headdress, adopted in Britain and the Caribbean alike in the s, reflected a new awareness of African culture inspired by Rastafarianism.
For many in the black community, including Boyce who was greatly attracted by it in the early s, Rastafarianism was akin to the civil rights movement in the USA. It inspired the black community with a new sense of cultural freedom which took on a religious fervour see Anthony Giddens, Sociology, Cambridge , p.
It took hold in Britain in the s when it appealed to a first generation of British-born blacks, who grew up disillusioned by discrimination and hostility. Essentially mystical, the sect based its beliefs on certain sections of the Bible, carving out of the white man's religion a subversive belief system for oppressed black communities. Of the movement Dick Hebdige writes: By a dialectical process of redefinition, the Scriptures, which had constantly absorbed and deflected the revolutionary potential of the Jamaican black, were used to locate that potential, to negate the Judaeo-Christian culture which had originally produced those very scriptures.
Reggae Rastas and Ruddies: For black youth it provided a means of rebellion, both against white society and against their parents who they felt continued to accept white oppression. Through reading about the history of slavery Boyce discovered that her African ancestors practised Christianity while continuing to practise indigenous religions. She read Gert Chesi's bookVoodoo: