NIGERIAN sculpture Yinka Shonibare has been commissioned by the David Oluwale Memorial Association (Doma) to honour his life with a new giant sculpture to be erected in the Leeds city centre.
It has been commissioned to honour the life of the British-Nigerian and Leeds resident whose personal story inspired local people to create a lasting legacy to mark his life. Expected to take about two years to complete, the sculpture will be unveiled as part of Leeds 2023, the city’s landmark year of culture.
Following years of work by Doma, Mr Shonibare’s sculpture will be a significant project in the programme for Leeds 2023. Currently in the research and development stage, with the support of a challenge grant from Leeds 2023, a scaled maquette will be produced by Mr Shonibare this year to accompany a series of community engagement events, an integral part of the project.
Kully Thiarai, creative director and chief executive of Leeds 2023, said: “Doma have created an extraordinary moment for Leeds by bringing an artist of the calibre of Yinka Shonibare to our city. Yinka’s sculpture will encourage us to learn from the past and is an incredible legacy for the future.
“Across our city, there are many people who are locked out of opportunities and through projects like this one, and more, we have the potential to help create chances to nurture and inspire the next generation of creative talent as well as celebrate the rich diversity and internationalism of Leeds.”
David Oluwale’s life was cut short when he drowned in the River Aire in 1969 following years of mental ill-health, homelessness, racism, destitution and police persecution. Artist Shonibare, commissioned to build the sculpture was born in London and moved to Lagos, Nigeria when he was three years old, returning later to study Fine Art at Byam School of Art and then at Goldsmith’s College.
A Turner Prize nominee and Royal Academician, he said: “It is an honour to have been asked to create this new work to remember an ordinary man with an extraordinary legacy. This sculpture will be a symbol of hope, an everyday reminder of our desire to improve the lives of all and a place for people to come together and I’m looking forward to working with Doma and the communities where David lived in the months and years to come.”
Leeds City Council commissioned an independent review of Leeds’s historic statues and monuments earlier this year amid calls from anti-racism campaigners for sculptures and other public artwork across the UK to better reflect themes such as diversity and inclusivity. The review’s findings were considered and accepted by the council’s executive board in October.
This review recommended the commissioning of more works of art that commemorate the diverse life and times of Leeds and it is hoped that Yinka Shonibare’s sculpture will underline the city’s commitment to telling the story of all its residents, past and present. Mr Shonibare’s piece will be an important feature of a new park planned for Leeds city centre on the site of the former Tetley brewery, close to the River Aire.