Radio Ballads: Sonia Boyce, Fortune Tellers

Offsite 2019 - 2021

How can conversations help us to conjure something concrete out of the immaterial?

“When we speak, or are in conversation, many images – in what is called the mind’s eye – rise to the surface. Conversations have that capacity to offer a residual visualisation, which has increasingly become the starting point for many of my artworks. An essential part of my process relies on a variety of people getting involved to help me to conjure something concrete and visible out of this immaterial thing that we call talking. As such, I have a social practice, but beyond that I make no grand claims.” – Sonia Boyce

In partnership with Barking and Dagenham’s Domestic Abuse Commission, Sonia Boyce’s Radio Ballad’s project invites individuals, community organisations and social care services into a discursive research process that creates a space for people’s lived experiences to be shared, listened to and made visible through collaborative artistic production.

Radio Ballads

To mark the anniversary of the 1970 Equal Pay Act and the momentum for change created by the Dagenham Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968, Serpentine Galleries and the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham are partnering to develop a series of collaborative artist residencies and commissions that will examine the future and histories of work, called Radio Ballads.

The original Radio Ballads were produced by musicians Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, working with radio producer Charlie Parker to make a series for the BBC, focussing on workers’ experiences and issues. The original series of eight one-hour Radio Ballads revolutionised radio documentary and were broadcast by the BBC from 1957–64. A combination of song, music, sound effect and recorded voice, each Radio Ballad presented a view on the working lives of British people.

The Radio Ballad‘s commissions will be shared publicly in London in the summer 2021. More information about these artworks and events will be shared as the projects unfold.

The commissioned artists: Sonia Boyce, Helen Cammock, Rory Pilgrim and Ilona Sagar.

Sonia Boyce

Sonia Boyce (OBE, RA). Amongst numerous solo and group exhibitions, both internationally and in the UK, Boyce’s recent solo shows have included Manchester Art Gallery (2018),ICA, London (2017), Villa Arson, Nice (2016), and group exhibitions including Prospect 4, New Orleans (2017), and Okwui Enwezor’s All the World’s Futures, for the 56th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, Venice (2015). Her current solo exhibition, In the Castle of My Skin, at Eastside Projects, Birmingham will travel to Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art later this year. 2020 also sees the completion of a significant public art commission by Boyce for the Elizabeth Line, Crossrail project, London. Boyce is currently a Professor at University of the Arts London, where she holds the inaugural Chair in Black Art; Design. Sonia will represent the UK at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia with a major new exhibition for the British Pavilion in 2022.


Barking and Dagenham Domestic Abuse Commission brings together the thinking of 12 national experts to explore the attitudes around domestic abuse in Barking and Dagenham, and make a series of recommendations which can help to make a long term change to attitudes across the borough. The commission is chaired by Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, and is due to publish its report with recommendations in January 2021. Community engagement and qualitative insight has been key to the work of the commission – the commission has a survivors panel which meets every 2 weeks to talk to residents with lived experience of domestic abuse about solutions and ideas.

New Town Culture

Radio Ballads is part of New Town Culture – a pioneering programme of artistic and cultural activity taking place in adult and children’s social care across the entire borough. This is a Cultural Impact Award winning project, part of London Borough of Culture, a Mayor of London initiative. New Town Culture responds to the incredible stories, knowledge and skills of the residents of Barking and Dagenham, delivering a programme of workshops, exhibitions, radio broadcasts, live performances and courses targeted at people using social care services in our borough. Working closely with social care professionals and artists, the project hopes to unlock the value of art and culture for all our communities. Its ambition is to support social workers and carers to try out new ways of working to enhance the brilliant work they already do.


Discover 50 years of the Serpentine

From the architecture pavilion and digital commissions to the ideas marathon and the General Ecology programme, explore 50 years of artists, projects and exhibitions.

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