Leeds Arts University opens display of shortlisted sculptures for Quarry Hill artwork championing women in the city

Artists pictured from the left are Zsofia Jakab, Pippa Hale, Briony Marshall and Wendy Briggs.
Artists pictured from the left are Zsofia Jakab, Pippa Hale, Briony Marshall and Wendy Briggs.

Designs for a public sculpture celebrating the role of women in Leeds have gone on display in the city two years after the idea was first sparked.

Leeds Arts University’s latest exhibition, which opens tonight and can be viewed generally from tomorrow, shows maquettes by four artists whose work has been shortlisted for a new sculpture at Quarry Hill.

The final artists were chosen to take forward the project, aiming to redress the gender balance of public sculpture in an innovative way by championing the achievements Leeds women through an avant-garde approach - but just one artist will be commissioned to create the feminist sculpture.

Leeds West Labour MP Rachel Reeves, who has worked with Leeds City Council and the university on the project, first came up with the plan in March 2017 and won the backing of the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Visitors to the exhibition at the institution's Blenheim Walk Gallery can cast their votes about which of the four pieces they would like to see created, but after interviews a panel is ultimately due to make the final decision on Friday June 7.

Dr Catriona McAra, university curator, said that studying the imbalance of art portraying men and women has formed part of her research, and noted the sculptures of City Square in Leeds.

"We've got learned gentlemen who are clothed and female nymphs who are nude," she said.

Briony Marshall's design was inspired by University of Leeds academic Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, who discovered the structure of benzene and hexachlorobenzene, the geometric shape of which is reflected in a circular artwork of interlinked women and children in tribute to their lives and work.

"The only reason I can be a sculptor and have my career is because of women who've come before," the London-based artist said.

Zsófia Jakab's idea is based around spinning wheels and the work women have done using the device.

The Hungarian-born interdisciplinary artist said: "It's really exciting, I haven't had this direct communication with the public before so it's quite interesting how people who are not necessarily artists or people who are interested in fine art are coming in and have a say on what people have - because it's going to be theirs."

Leeds-based Pippa Hale's design is for five Corten steel ribbons which would have the names of women past and present laser-cut into it.

She said: "The idea is that these ribbons would weave their way through the city, through the pavements and so on, perhaps rising up in places to create little benches or low-level walkways for kids to play on, but at Quarry Hill they'll sort of come together, rise up out of the ground and [create a] fluttering dance type thing."

The concept came from ribbons being used as a way to decorate female clothes, hair or its association with certain causes.

Wendy Briggs, an installation artist from Bedfordshire who works across a variety of media, showcased her piece based on lanterns.

It would use steel, glass, slates and floodlighting to create shadows of cyclic patterns.

"I came up to Leeds and started researching the area and started sketching," he said. "It really just grows out of that, the ideas."

Whichever work the panel chooses, the names of pioneering Leeds women are intended to be included on the piece in phases.

Ms Reeves said: "It's really brilliant for it all to come together and also get a chance for the first time to meet the artists who developed these works of art and to see how excited they are as well about this project and being part of it, and of course one of them will go forward and we will have a new statue in Leeds to represent the contribution that the women of our city have made."

The exhibition takes place until July 4 but the gallery is closed on Sundays.