Leeds Beckett University Student Aims To Inspire After Unveiling Landmark Sculpture

Lara Rose - sculpture of theatre director Dr Geraldine Connor

A Leeds Beckett University PhD student hopes to inspire artists to create more statues of black people across Britain after unveiling a landmark sculpture at the university. Lara Rose‘s life-size sculpture of renowned theatre director Dr Geraldine Connor is thought to be the only sculpture of a black person on public display in Leeds and one of a select few across the country.

The public can now see the statue in the Leeds School of Arts building at Leeds Beckett University’s City Campus after being officially unveiled by members of Leeds City Council and figures from the local arts community in a recent ceremony at the university.

Those in attendance included singer Corinne Bailey Rae, Director of the Geraldine Connor Foundation, Selina McGonagle, and LBU academic and co-chair of the David Oluwale Memorial Association, Dr Emily Zobel Marshall.

Lara Rose - sculpture of theatre director Dr Geraldine Connor
Lara Rose and Corinne Bailey Rae pose for a photo in front of the Geraldine Connor statue at Leeds Beckett University.

Councillors Abigail Marshall Katung, James Lewis, and Jonathan Pryor were also in attendance and spoke at the event. Lara Rose, PhD student at Leeds Beckett University, said: “There are only four or five sculptures of black people across the UK, and that’s not enough. I hope this will inspire people, and I really think it will.”

A multi-talented performer, writer, director and educator, Dr Connor balanced her work in the performing arts industry with a Senior Lecturer role at the University of Leeds. She sought to build cultural and educational links between the UK and Trinidad, the country of her parents, until her death in October 2011, at the age of 59.

Lara and Dr Connor enjoyed a close relationship, with Lara starring in Dr Connor’s Carnival Messiah production and later selecting a PhD topic based on the director’s advice to explore West African Yoruba culture. Lara added: “In my first experience of Dr Geraldine Connor’s Carnival Messiah in 2002, the seeds were sown for further inquiry into a once forbidden Yoruba culture and language.

“Following numerous conversations with Geraldine, and on her discovery of my Yoruba heritage, she said to me, ‘child, you need to tell your story, your Yoruba story in your art.’”

Dr Emily Zobel Marshall, Reader at Leeds Beckett University, said: “This is a really important moment for the university and the city. “There are no statues of black people in the city of Leeds, and this is a wonderful precursor to the David Oluwale memorial that will be erected in 2023.”

Councillor Abigail Marshall Katung said: “Unveiling the very first statue of a black person in Leeds is a great achievement that we all need to celebrate. Lara Rose, who has done this magnificent work, is my constituent, and I’m proud to support her and the university in commemorating Dr Geraldine Connor.” The sculpture will be on display until the New Year. For more information, visit the Leeds Beckett University website.

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