University of Leeds: Raising the ‘Curtain’ on new campus sculpture

The unveiling at the Esther Simpson Building on Wednesday will be followed by a memorial concert in collaboration with the School of Music and Opera North. The concert, which will be held in Clothworkers’ Centenary Concert Hall, will mark Esther Simpson’s significant contribution to refugee welfare as part of Refugee Week 2022.

The Sculpture  
Novella is known for his striking public works of art in major cities across the world and his unique approach to engaging with urban landscapes. He was chosen to create a sculpture to mark the new entrance on the western campus, next to the Esther Simpson Building, after a competitive selection process.

The artwork is fashioned out of giant metal sheets which are 20 meters long and three meters high.

The new sculpture is abstract and poetic: embellished across the artwork are the cryptic words ‘to leaf is to learn’, which come from a collaboration with Poet Laureate and Leeds’ Professor of Poetry, Simon Armitage.

Professor Armitage’s inspiration for the artwork was drawn from the concept that the artwork represents notebook sheets, which is a common element in students’ lives.  

Novella said: “It is a curtain, a wall created with leaves of paper torn from a notebook. Its sinuous shape creates curves that modulate light and stimulate the urban landscape.  

“I like to imagine people around my sculptures, touching them, leaning on them, children playing. I want this work to be a living element that adds a sense of identity to the place where it is located.”  

After the launch of the sculpture, Novella will be in conversation with Jane Bhoyroo, the Principal Keeper of Leeds Art Gallery, to discuss the work. There will also be an opportunity for questions from the audience.

Celebrating Esther’s work
The Esther Simpson memorial concert will take place after the launch of the sculpture to mark her significant contribution to refugee welfare.

The programme will include guest artists performing Gideon Klein’s lullaby for voice and piano, his trio for strings, and Schubert’s Trio in B Flat Major D471. 

The School of Music’s student string quartet will also play pieces which link to Esther’s Jewish heritage. The concert includes Opera North guest artists Hannah Perowne, Lucy Nolan, Richard Jenkinson, Katie Bird, and Martin Pickard. 

A heroic graduate
Esther Simpson graduated from the University of Leeds in 1924, going on to assist hundreds of scholars fleeing persecution across the world. Born to Jewish immigrant parents, Esther worked tirelessly to help academics fleeing the Nazi regime during the Second World War. 

The Esther Simpson Building opened for teaching in September 2021. It houses technology-rich, collaborative, and inclusive learning spaces to enable the delivery of activities to support students to develop the knowledge, skills, behaviours, and professional competencies to better equip them for working in a global environment.  

The building was officially opened on 8 March 2022 with an event that honoured the memory of Esther Simpson and the values that she stood for, which included inclusivity, community and support for marginalised groups, the global role of academia in benefiting society, progressing human rights, and a love for music and the arts.  

A Civic Trust Blue Plaque was unveiled in Esther Simpson’s memory and a building plaque was unveiled to mark the official opening date. The event also featured music and performances from the School of Music and Stage@Leeds.

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