New sculpture ‘Hibiscus Rising’ unveiled in Aire Park

‘Hibiscus Rising’, a striking new 9.5m tall sculpture by international artist Yinka Shonibare CBE RA has been revealed in Leeds today (24 November 2023). A major part of the programme for LEEDS 2023, Year of Culture, ‘Hibiscus Rising’ is Shonibare’s first permanent public commission in the North of England and is sited in Aire Park on the former Tetley’s Brewery site in Hunslet.

Forming a powerful legacy in celebration of the life of David Oluwale, ‘Hibiscus Rising’ also acts as a symbol of unity and hope, and shows how far Leeds as a unified, inclusive city has moved from a less tolerant past. The piece was co-commissioned by LEEDS 2023 and the David Oluwale Memorial Association (DOMA) to honour the life of Oluwale, a British Nigerian Leeds resident who was hounded to his death on 18 April 1969, drowning in the River Aire as a result of systematic police harassment and violence.

Kully Thiarai, Creative Director and CEO of LEEDS 2023 said:

“Our heartfelt thanks go to Yinka Shonibare for creating such a wonderful legacy for our Year of Culture, we are delighted with ‘Hibiscus Rising’ and the positive message this beautiful work shares with us. LEEDS 2023 has been a year full of uncovering and revealing stories from all communities in Leeds, it’s been important throughout the year that we use this time to hear from different voices and work with artists to tell those tales. It is an incredible privilege to be able to do this and highlights the importance of how art in our communities can help us to understand the past, shape our world and create change for the future.”

Like Shonibare, David Oluwale spent his childhood in Lagos, moving to Leeds in 1949.  Oluwale faced homelessness, mental ill-health and racism in the years before his death, his legacy has since inspired protest, reflection and reform in Leeds and beyond.

‘Hibiscus Rising’ is inspired by the hibiscus flower, a plant ubiquitous in Nigeria where both Shonibare and Oluwale spent their childhoods, and features Shonibare’s African-inspired batik patterns, which in-turn have their origins in Indonesian culture, and which explore themes of cultural and national identity.

Located at the heart of Leeds’ extensive regeneration area of the South Bank on Meadow Lane within the new Aire Park development, ‘Hibiscus Rising’ is close to the river where Oluwale lost his life, the new David Oluwale Bridge and the blue plaque dedicated to him on nearby Leeds Bridge. The sculpture will be at the centre of a landscape designed by urban and rural place design practice Planit whose vision of ruptured ground giving way to the growth of the sculpture creates a striking setting.

Yinka Shonibare said:

“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. 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.”

Since 2008, the DOMA charity has been working to promote equality, diversity and racial harmony in Leeds, using art and events to remember Oluwale’s life and create positive change. ‘Hibiscus Rising’ is a flagship project for the charity with the sculpture and surrounding green space considered as a place for performance and play, contemplation and reflection.

Dr Emily Zobel Marshall, co-chair of DOMA says:

“Hibiscus Rising is the first sculpture in this city that reflects the cultural diversity of our people. After years of effort, we at DOMA are so incredibly proud to see our dream as a small anti-racist charity come to fruition.

“Leeds has faced the tragic story of David Oluwale head on, refused to forget him and the terrible prejudices of the past and made a commitment to move forward together in unity.  Yinka Shonibare’s Hibiscus Rising epitomises all of this; it uplifts us, like a flower rising out of concrete, towards a more hopeful future.”

Leeds City Council committed to supporting the realisation of the sculpture following a public consultation and review of all statues in 2020, led by Alison Lowe, now appointed as West Yorkshire Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime (DMPC) which resulted in the recommendation to ‘commission works of art that commemorate the varied contributions of the diverse citizens of Leeds’.

Councillor James Lewis, Leader of Leeds City Council said:

“The unveiling of this magnificent new public artwork is a moment Leeds can be truly proud of and one which makes a powerful statement about the city and what it stands for.

“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. It will also be a beautiful and lasting visual reminder of LEEDS 2023 and this landmark celebration of our city and its culture.”

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, the Mayor of West Yorkshire’s and Chief Constable of West Yorkshire’s Police Property Act Fund and the fabrication of Hibiscus Rising was supported by a grant from the Henry Moore Foundation.

Jenny Waldman, Director, Art Fund, said:

“This monumental sculpture by the brilliant Yinka Shonibare CBE RA uses the power of art to raise awareness of, and celebrate, the life of David Oluwale. I’m delighted that Art Fund has been able to support Leeds City Council and LEEDS 2023 on this fantastic addition to the city through our commission grants and our Art Happens crowdfunding platform. Now the largest permanent sculpture in the UK by the artist, I know Hibiscus Rising will inspire communities and new visitors to Leeds for many years to come.”

A free activity day is taking place on Saturday 25 November with an in conversation talk with Yinka Shonibare, family and zine making workshops, walking tour, live music, and poetry open mic sessions. Following the launch, an engagement programme, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and led by DOMA will include an African heritage festival, digital storytelling and educational resources for schools and teachers.


This post is based on a press release issued on behalf of LEEDS 2023

Photo: Yinka Shonibare CBE RA, Cllr Abigail Marshall Katung DOMA, Dr Emily Zobel Marshall DOMA, Kully Thiarai LEEDS 2023. Photo: David Lindsay


While you’re here, can we ask a favour?

South Leeds Life is published by a not-for-profit social enterprise. We keep our costs as low as possible but we’ve been hit by increases in the print costs for our monthly newspaper – up 83% in the last 12 months.

Could you help support local community news by making a one off donation, or even better taking out a supporters subscription?

Donate here, or sign up for a subscription at

Thank you for your support

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *