22 May 2024

Arts are ‘integral to everyday life’, says damehood recipient

22 May 2024

The first black woman to be elected to the Royal Academy of Arts has said creative skills are “integral to everyday life” as she received her damehood at Windsor Castle.

Speaking to the PA news agency following an investiture ceremony carried out by the Prince of Wales, Dame Sonia Boyce said she wanted to use her profile to continue advocating for the arts.

Dame Sonia is a professor of black art and design at University of the Arts London and was elected to the royal academy in 2016.

So I feel very privileged - slightly shocked still - to be in this position and also to be an advocate for the arts

She said: “It’s (the damehood) a recognition of work that not only myself have done but has been done over the decades to just acknowledge and, I suppose, reward the contributions that many have done.

“So I feel very privileged – slightly shocked still – to be in this position and also to be an advocate for the arts.

“We so need that at the moment – the arts are just incredible, they’re not an add on, they’re integral to everyday life.

“The arts is really about if you’ve got something to say, or you’re envisaging something you’re in a dialogue with everybody about it, and so it really is about ‘Come and take part, come and add to the conversation, come and dream your dreams’.”

Dame Sonia was honoured for her services to the arts in the King’s New Year Honours list in 2024.

At the investiture on Wednesday she chose to wear a green patterned suit designed specifically for her by the Nigerian-British fashion designer Duro Olowu.

Dame Sonia added she believed the Royal Academy of Arts is “becoming much more inclusive” and “people have fought very hard to make that possible”.

She said: “Of course it needs to open the doors to a really diverse group of artists who really are in a renaissance at the moment. There is so much creativity going on.

“In the UK we’ve still got a long way to go but we are in the same way that the British culture is always slightly quirky and ahead of the curve often, and the creative industries are punching above their weight.”

Dame Sonia said she believed it was “very short-sighted” to view the arts as a secondary subject to the sciences or maths.

The professor said: “Every single civilisation and culture has had the arts and creativity at its heart. Creativity helps us think better, think about what might be possible.

“Creativity is very much about problem-solving so for it to be seen as secondary or not quite as important is not true. It’s not true at all and the sciences depend a lot on the arts as does the arts depend on the sciences.

“It’s an integral human condition and we really need to give young people ways of expressing that.”

She added she struggled to comprehend the reality of becoming a dame when she received the news.

“It was very hard for me to reconcile when I got the letter to say: ‘We’d like to offer you the damehood’,” Dame Sonia said.

“I was like really? Trying to put myself in what I imagine a dame to be. It took a while for me to reconcile that yes, I could take that on somehow.”

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