The British artist Sonia Boyce was a central figure in the British Black Arts Movement and has in recent years achieved widespread critical acclaim within the field of British art. Although she is now known for her performative and collaborative approach to art making, she began her career making figurative oil pastel and charcoal portraits that have become synonymous with black artistic practices of the 1980s. This article presents a new reading of three of these iconic portraits—Auntie Enid–The Pose (1985), Missionary Position II (1985), and Big Women’s Talk (1984). The new reading respects, but diverges from, previous interpretations that have typically focused on representations of black domestic life and the politics of identity. Taking direction from several interviews with the artist, including one conducted by the author in 2015, the article uses a formal analysis to propose the hitherto unacknowledged or under-appreciated interplay with modernism and other art movements within the three artworks in question.

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