A new sculpture by Yinka Shonibare CBE RA to honour David Oluwale, the British Nigerian and Leeds resident whose personal story inspired local people to create a lasting legacy to mark his life. Oluwale drowned in the River Aire on 18 April 1969 after being systematically harassed by members of the Leeds City police force.
Inspired by the hibiscus flower, a plant ubiquitous in Nigeria, this major new public artwork embellished with African inspired batik patterns stands as a beacon of hope. It provides a place where people can come together and tells a story of reconciliation, healing and renewal for the city.
There are two key people involved in this project having a conversation through time: David Oluwale and Yinka Shonibare. It felt appropriate to shine a light on them both.
David Oluwale was a British Nigerian who arrived in Leeds in 1949, aged about 19. He had stowed away on a Lagos cargo ship, in search of a better life. For 4 years he worked hard and enjoyed a sociable life with the other West Africans in the city. But in 1953 he was detained in a psychiatric hospital and he ended up sleeping rough for most of the 1960s.
David Oluwale drowned in April 1969 after being assaulted by 2 Leeds police officers. His death briefly caused a national scandal but was mostly forgotten until the release of police files thirty years later. In 2007, the #RememberOluwale charity was initiated, dedicated to utilising the arts to stimulate a creative and hopeful response in the city of Leeds to the afflictions David Oluwale endured.
Artist Yinka Shonibare CBE RA was born in 1962 in London, England and moved to Lagos, Nigeria at the age of three. He lives and works in London. Shonibare’s interdisciplinary practice explores cultural identity, colonialism and post-colonialism within the contemporary context of globalisation. He was a Turner Prize nominee in 2004 and was elected as a Royal Academician in 2013. Shonibare was awarded the honour of Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2019 and received the Art Icon Award from Whitechapel Gallery in 2021.
Leeds Beckett have created a timeline to help us remember David Oluwale and how his life has been remembered. It charts a long running campaign for justice and the cultural legacy it's left behind.
Back in 2020, the project was commissioned. Read the story to learn more about the background and how the piece will bring a new legacy to the city.
You can learn much more about David Oluwale's life and death by visiting Remember Oluwale, a website setup by charity The David Oluwale Memorial Association.
The charity aims to help the city in coming to terms with its past, to improve its care for those who remain marginalised, and to promote compassion, cohesion, inclusion and social justice in Leeds.
This project is a collaboration between The David Oluwale Memorial Association, LEEDS 2023 and Leeds City Council. With support from Art Fund, Arts Council England, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Henry Moore Foundation.
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