Artist Sonia Boyce is to become the first black woman to represent Great Britain at the prestigious Venice Biennale next year.
Boyce will fly the flag with a major new exhibition at the world’s most important contemporary art festival.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the offer came as “a real shock, but a real delight as well”.
The London-based artist rose to prominence in the 1980s as one of the leading lights in black British art.
Her art has often dealt with themes of race and gender, initially working with pastels and then moving into photography, video, sound and installations.
“That early work in the 1980s was very much about me being the centre of a lot of those images that I was making, and I would often talk about growing up in the UK, being black and being female, and what it was like at that particular time,” she told Today.
“And the work has since shifted, which I suppose is what we’re going to be seeing when the show goes to Venice.”
Boyce was made an MBE in 2007 and was elected to the Royal Academy in 2016. She is also currently creating a large artwork for the new Elizabeth Line railway in Newham, east London.
For her latest exhibition, at Eastside Projects in Birmingham, titled In the Castle of My Skin, she has built what she described as a “crazy structure” in the gallery to show her wallpapers and the work of seven artists with whom she has collaborated.
Emma Dexter, director of visual art for the British Council, said the committee had chosen Boyce at “a pivotal moment in in the history of the UK”.
She said: “They really loved the fact that Sonia brings people together. Her practice is very collaborative. It’s very open-ended, experimental, and values people working together and appreciating their difference but still coming together.”
Anish Kapoor, Henry Moore, Richard Hamilton, Steve McQueen and Tracey Emin are among the artists who have previously been chosen to exhibit in the British Pavilion at Venice.