Artists bring Leeds voices to life in new exhibition

The voices, stories and songs of generations of Leeds folk have inspired a thought-provoking new exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery.

Leeds-based artist Jill McKnight immersed herself in the collections of the British Library and Leeds Art Gallery for Desire Lines, which retraces the steps different people from the Leeds area have taken and how they have represented themselves over time.

Inspired by recordings in the British Library’s sound archive and the works of Edna Lumb and Effie Hummerston in Leeds Art Gallery’s Works on Paper collection, the exhibition will include a mixture of sculpture, print, sound and video, and will delve into the stories of people historically under-represented in the arts.

Jill said: “The project particularly interested me because it focused on cultural identity, which is one of my central artistic concerns, particularly the representation of working-class people in Northern England and lesser-heard voices that would otherwise be lost or overlooked.”

Made up of a completely new body of work, Desire Lines will look at the physical and metaphorical paths carved by Leeds residents across the city’s landscape and history.

Subjects including domestic and industrial labour, storytelling, singing and dancing will be explored along with the representation of community identities and collective voices that are frequently overlooked.

A selection of significant Leeds-related items from the British Library, such as recordings of folk singing in Yorkshire and dialects in Leeds, and Leeds Art Gallery collections will also exhibited alongside Jill’s work.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “Leeds is a city so profoundly rich in folk history and tradition, with stories happening every day in communities all across the city.

“It’s exciting to see the collections of Leeds Art Gallery and the British Library alongside generations of people in Leeds providing the inspiration for an exhibition that will capture some unexplored chapters of that history.”

Jamie Andrews, Head of Culture and Learning at the British Library, added: “We are thrilled to collaborate with Leeds Art Gallery to commission and showcase this new body of work by Jill McKnight, inspired by the dialogue between both our organisations’ wonderful collections.

“The Library is one of the UK’s key memory institutions, and it is fantastic to see our accent and dialect and traditional music sound recordings used to follow the voices and stories of people in Leeds over time. The Library has had a major presence in the region for more than sixty years through our Boston Spa site near Wetherby, and we hope this exhibition further opens up our collections to audiences in the city and beyond.”

Jill McKnight is a multidisciplinary artist working across sculpture, drawing, performance, writing and installation. Her practice focuses on exploring lesser heard stories and voices, particularly from women and working-class people.

Desire Lines will be at Leeds Art Gallery and online from March 25 until October 16.


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