Opening on Friday 29 March 2024, Leilah Babirye’s exhibition Obumu (Unity) will feature new sculptures made at Yorkshire Sculpture Park specifically for this exhibition, largely from materials found onsite.

Leilah Babirye is an artist who was born in Uganda and now lives in the USA. She was forced to leave her home country, where being gay is illegal, after being outed by a newspaper. She is an artist and activist, especially for LGBTQIA+ rights.

Babirye spent the summer of 2023 at Yorkshire Sculpture Park making a clan of seven larger-than-life-size figures in wood and five coloured ceramics. Supported by YSP’s onsite technical team and artists, seven sculptures were carved using a chainsaw and chisels from a 200-year-old fallen beech tree at the Park. Babirye describes being guided by the wood itself, sketching the initial forms directly onto the sectioned tree for carving. Once carved, the figures are refined and their surfaces sanded back to highlight the grains of the tree. The sculptures are then burned a deep black, which the artist used to do to make the works ‘disappear’, but is now a gesture of celebrating their beauty. Details of the sculptures are treated with a blowtorch and then all the surfaces carefully waxed to acknowledge the skin of the piece and the tree from which it came. The final stage is one Babirye has called ‘taking the girls to the salon’, in which found elements complete the sculptures, including bicycle chains, nails and copper from a dismantled boiler, as well as redundant silver tea pots.

During her time at YSP, Babirye also sculpted five large ceramic portrait-sculptures, each its own personality. They are created from coiled clay and boldly shaped into fundamental forms in which traces of the artist’s strong hands and fingers can be seen, before being fired and heavily coated with dense glazes that on firing contribute to the sculptures’ earthy, elemental power. Together the works will make a robust, rich statement in YSP’s Chapel, built in 1744, around the same time that the beech tree began to grow. Painterly glazes contrast with chiselled, roughly-textured woodwork and metal objects associated with the art of blacksmithing. The artworks become a congregation that celebrates community in all its forms in this beautiful and contemplative space, which has witnessed key moments in now-forgotten lives for centuries.

Venue opening hours

Monday : Closed

Tuesday : 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Wednesday : 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Thursday : 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Friday : 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Saturday : 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

Sunday : 10:00 am - 5:00 pm

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  • Assistance Dogs Welcome
  • Baby Changing Facilities
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Venue Details

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West Bretton, Wakefield, WF4 4LG