David Oluwale
Securing the proposed new public artwork in memory of David Oluwale and for the City of Leeds and authority to enter into an agreement with Leeds Culture Trust.
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Council chiefs set to back new tribute to David Oluwale

Council chiefs in Leeds are set to give their backing to the creation of a major new public artwork paying tribute to the life and legacy of David Oluwale.

At a meeting, members of the council’s executive board will be asked to support the significant new piece by internationally-renowned artist Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, which is due to be unveiled at Aire Park next year as part of the LEEDS 2023 cultural celebration. The striking, 10m high artwork will be the first of its kind in the UK by the artist, and will commemorate the life of David Oluwale, who travelled from Nigeria to Leeds and was sadly harassed because of his race, homelessness and mental health.

He tragically drowned in the River Aire in 1969 in an incident which had a profound social and cultural impact on the city and inspired a series of moving books and plays. Next week, members of the executive board will be asked to approve a funding package which will allow the Leeds Culture Trust to begin work on bringing the new artwork to life.

If agreed, the council will cover project costs while fundraising by partners is ongoing, enabling the artwork to progress within its required timescales. Costs to the council are expected to be recouped through fundraising. The proposal will also be subject to a planning application which will be submitted later this summer, with a series of community engagement sessions being prepared. People in Leeds will also have the opportunity to support fundraising. The nationally significant new artwork is being proposed as part of a partnership between the David Oluwale Memorial Association (DOMA) and LEEDS 2023 and is part of ongoing work to commemorate David’s life.

When completed, it will be placed in Aire Park, the largest new Leeds City Centre green space in the UK, and close to the David Oluwale bridge, a further tribute which is currently under construction. Recently, a blue plaque was also installed on Leeds Bridge by Leeds Civic Trust and sadly vandalised, provoking a public outcry across Leeds and beyond, and sparking a remarkable fundraising effort and response. Work is now ongoing to install a replacement.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education said:

“David Oluwale’s story is one which should be remembered and commemorated because it reminds us of both the tragic price of intolerance and the progress we have made as a city. As recent events have shown, the people of Leeds will not stand for racism and we will unite in spectacular fashion against the actions of any mindless individuals who would seek to divide us. This important artwork will stand as a lasting monument to David’s life and legacy and as a symbol of the modern, diverse and inclusive city Leeds is today.”

The council’s executive board will meet on Wednesday, June 22. A full copy of the report can be seen at: www.democracy.leeds.gov.uk

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