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An aerial view of Hibiscus Rising with bright colours and batik patterns
Reflection

The story of Hibiscus Rising

Journal 14 Dec 2023

In November 2023, Yinka Shonibare CBE RA’s Hibiscus Rising was unveiled in Leeds, a major new public artwork that raises awareness of David Oluwale’s story.

Hibiscus Rising was commissioned by The David Oluwale Memorial Association (DOMA) to honour the life of Oluwale, a British Nigerian and Leeds resident, who drowned in the River Aire on 18 April 1969 after being systematically harassed by members of the Leeds City Police force.

The artwork is presented by DOMA, LEEDS 2023: Year of Culture and Leeds City Council.

Here, we reflect on our part in the artwork’s journey and what it means to the city.

The story of Hibiscus Rising
Yinka Shonibare CBE, ‘Hibiscus Rising’, 2023. Courtesy the artist, LEEDS 2023, the David Oluwale Memorial Association and Leeds City Council. Photo: Octovision

The beginning of Hibiscus Rising

In 2014, DOMA and The Tetley co-founder Pippa Hale approached Shonibare and his studio with David Oluwale’s story and a proposal to commission a public artwork to commemorate his life and legacy.

Shonibare created a drawing of what this memorial could look like in 2016, depicting a hibiscus flower rising from a pool of water, covered in batik patterns.

a drawing of a a patterned hibiscus flower
Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, digital drawing, 2016. Courtesy the artist. Installation view at The Tetley, 2022. Photo: Jules Lister
a patterned model of a hibiscus flower
Yinka Shonibare CBE, Hibiscus Rising Maquette, 2022. Courtesy the artist and The Tetley. Photo: Stephen White & Co.

Community engagement

Between May and June 2022, DOMA worked to gather community feedback on the proposed sculpture and memorial garden. The Hibiscus Rising maquette – a smaller model of the proposed larger scale work – toured Leeds, as part of free and open-to-all community engagement workshops, hosted at Hamara Centre (Beeston), Left Bank (Burley), The Old Fire Station (Gipton) and Seven Arts (Chapel Allerton).

Exhibition at The Tetley

From 11 September 2022 – 8 January 2023, we collaborated with DOMA and LEEDS 2023 to present an exhibition at The Tetley with the plans for this new memorial.

The display centred around the maquette of Hibiscus Rising and offered an insight into the tireless dedication of volunteer-led organisation DOMA and Leeds Civic Trust in raising awareness of Oluwale’s story.

A model of a patterned hibiscus flower with framed photos behind on the wall
Yinka Shonibare CBE, Hibiscus Rising Maquette, 2022. Courtesy the artist. Landscape design courtesy ©Planit-IE / ©Virtual Planit. Photo: Jules Lister

The public’s response

As part of the exhibition we asked for feedback on the plans.

There were many powerful responses to the exhibition and the proposals.

Visitors said:

‘Hopefully this will act as a permanent and constant reminder of Oluwale’s life and tragic death’

‘How joy and hope can come out of darkness’

‘Hibiscus Rising is a powerful and potent eulogy to a Leeds citizen just like any of us. It serves as a reminder that despite the threats of noxious racists, David’s memory persists. For future generations; an elegant tribute’

‘The hounding of David Oluwale was a shameful stain on the history of Leeds. It is extraordinarily generous of Yinka Shonibare to use it as a springboard to create something hopeful and celebratory’

A blue plaque for David Oluwale

The exhibition coincided with the reinstallation of a new Blue Plaque for David Oluwale on Leeds Bridge, on Sunday 23 October 2022, organised by DOMA and Leeds Civic Trust, with a celebratory launch event hosted at The Tetley. The original was stolen in a racist hate crime, just hours after it was unveiled on 25 April 2022.

You can see the re-installed Blue Plaque on Leeds Bridge, just two minutes away from the new sculpture.

A blue plaque for David Oluwale in a vitrine as part of an exhibition at The Tetley
Blue plaque for David Oluwale courtesy Leeds Civic Trust. Installation view at The Tetley, 2022. Photo: Jules Lister

Unveiling the artwork

Just over a year later on Saturday 25 November 2023, DOMA, LEEDS 2023 and Leeds City Council hosted Hibiscus Rising: A Free Activity Day at The Tetley to mark the launch of this new major public artwork.

Featuring Yinka Shonibare, Joe Williams, Yoruba Heritage Group Yorkshire, Khadijah Ibrahiim and more, the programme included artist talks and walking tours, live music, poetry workshops and an open mic, as well as family-friendly craft workshops.

The story of Hibiscus Rising
Hibiscus Rising: A Free Activity Day marking the launch of ‘Hibiscus Rising’ by Yinka Shonibare CBE. Courtesy the artist, LEEDS 2023, the David Oluwale Memorial Association and Leeds City Council. Photo: David Lindsay
The story of Hibiscus Rising
Hibiscus Rising: A Free Activity Day marking the launch of ‘Hibiscus Rising’ by Yinka Shonibare CBE. Courtesy the artist, LEEDS 2023, the David Oluwale Memorial Association and Leeds City Council. Photo: David Lindsay

Permanent legacy

The artwork is now on display in Leeds South Bank, creating a permanent legacy for Oluwale’s story.

One visitor perfectly captured the significance of this sculpture, saying in response to the proposal:

‘I am proud to call Leeds my home as a city that would so rightfully, respectfully and politically pay tribute to this man’s life and recognise its own wrongdoings in this history.’

An aerial view of Hibiscus Rising with bright colours and batik patterns
Yinka Shonibare CBE, ‘Hibiscus Rising’, 2023. Courtesy the artist, LEEDS 2023, the David Oluwale Memorial Association and Leeds City Council. Photo: Octovision