In pictures: Yinka Shonibare's sculpture for Leeds
A sculpture of a hibiscus flower by celebrated artist Yinka Shonibare blooms at the centre of a new community space in Leeds. Discover how your support has helped bring this project to life.
Just over the road from the Tetley art gallery, near Leeds train station, rises a beautiful flower.
Embellished with his signature patterns, Yinka Shonibare’s sculpture Hibiscus Rising takes the shape of a monumental hibiscus flower, its petals reaching towards the sky.
The work was commissioned to honour the memory of Leeds resident David Oluwale, who drowned in 1969 after being systematically harassed by members of the Leeds City Police force. His legacy has since inspired protest, reflection and reform in Leeds and beyond.
Commissioned by the David Oluwale Memorial Association (DOMA), LEEDS 2023 and Leeds City Council with support from Art Fund, the sculpture was unveiled in November 2023.
Here we take a closer look at this striking work of art, its meaning for the local community, and how your support as an Art Fund member has helped it to blossom.
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A place to connect
Shonibare’s first permanent public art commission in the north of England, Hibiscus Rising is intended to stand as a beacon of hope.
The artist and the commissioning organisations all wanted to create a space for the community to come together and connect.
“I wanted Hibiscus Rising to be a place where people could remember David Oluwale, but also to unite the community of Leeds and bring people together,” said Shonibare on its unveiling. “Seeing it today, I am incredibly happy with how it looks and hope that it’s enjoyed by communities in Leeds now and for years to come.”
The hibiscus flower, the sculpture’s inspiration, is ubiquitous in Nigeria, where both Shonibare and Oluwale spent their childhoods.
Born in Lagos, Oluwale arrived in Leeds in 1949, aged around 19. Shonibare, born in London, moved to Lagos aged three.
Shonibare’s instantly recognisable patterns, which take their lead from African batik fabric, are seen across his work. Originally inspired by Indonesian design, batik was mass-produced by Dutch manufacturers and imported to Africa; Shonibare's use of it offers a commentary on complex colonial and post-colonial relations, and on cultural and national identity.
Art Fund members and supporters helped bring this project to life in two key ways.
As well as the £200,000 grant that we were able to offer towards the commissioning of the artwork itself, a crowdfunding campaign on our Art Happens platform helped to create an accessible space around it.
Over 250 funders contributed to the campaign, helping Leeds and DOMA to make a peaceful and practical space around the sculpture.
A place to imagine a more inclusive future
Poignantly, the sculpture is located close to the river where Oluwale lost his life, to the David Oluwale memorial bridge, and to the blue plaque dedicated to him on nearby Leeds Bridge.
As well as providing a place for people to come together and connect, it is hoped that the sculpture and its setting will encourage both reflection on the past – and the imagining of a more inclusive future.
In the words of the Leader of Leeds City Council, James Lewis: “As well as being a wonderful new addition to Leeds, Hibiscus Rising will also stand as a lasting tribute to the life and legacy of David Oluwale and, alongside the David Oluwale memorial bridge, will be a symbol of the inclusion, diversity and unity which are the cornerstones of Leeds today.”
At Art Fund, we believe that new commissions like this have a particular ability to bring people together and connect with audiences in new ways – and Hibiscus Rising is a great example.
Like everything we do, we couldn't have supported this wonderful project without you.
So, on your next visit to Leeds, be sure to seek out Shonibare's sculpture, and take a few moments to look up and reflect. As the artist himself says, in an interview with Art Fund's magazine, Art Quarterly: "The scale is large because I want it to be present, and for everyone to see it standing proudly and rising, a joyous thing."