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Sculptural Gateway: A Sanctuary of Steel Significance 

Leicester is home to a wide range of sculptures commemorating its colourful history and connections. Important figures such as King Richard III, Alice Hawkins and Thomas Cook all stand proudly in different sections of the city.

The latest addition stands at the entrance to Leicester’s glittering Golden Mile, and although it’s not a person, it is a poignant reminder of one of the most important events in the city’s history – the arrival of thousands of South Asians who played a huge part in making it what it is today.

Picture: Leicester City Council

‘Sculptural Gateway’ was designed by Anuradha Patel, as a tribute to the 10,000 South Asians who made Leicester their home after they were expelled from Uganda back in 1972.

Anuradha was one of those refugees, and although a child at the time, she has very strong memories of the trauma it caused her family.

“My mum died not too long after we came here, because I think she never really got over it,” she told Pukaar.

“I was young – only three or four at the time, but it affected my life tremendously – coming to a country where you don’t speak the language, and going to a school where you’re the only Indian person is an ordeal in itself.

“There wasn’t overt racism as such, but you were aware of being different and that there were those who didn’t like or accept you because of that.

“I hadn’t really talked to anyone about my experience, but as I was designing the sculpture, I’d talk to people and I was amazed at how many people had similar memories to me,” she went on to reveal. “It brought back a lot of memories of Uganda and feelings which I had suppressed.”

“Hopefully the sculpture will open up conversations around some of the traumatic experiences of the past, so that people can address it and move on to the next phase of their lives, but also not forget.

“That’s the whole point of the sculpture really – to encourage people to look forward but also remember the past – where they came from and the fact that they were welcomed here in Leicester.”

Although most of her family members are doctors, Anuradha took a different path and studied at college to become an artist.

“In Uganda, I remember getting clay from the riverbank behind the school in order to make sculptures. It was always in my blood and I absolutely love what I do – it’s my work and my life,” she said.

Although she’s based in Birmingham, Anuradha has a great connection to Leicester, and spent time as the artist in residence at the city’s Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre back in the late 80s.

Leicester is also home to a second piece of her art – ten free-standing brightly coloured lotus flowers, which stand proudly on Belgrave Gate.

The sculptures, installed in 2010, are internally lit with the flowers signifying wealth and generosity.

Picture: Pukaar News

“The symbolism of the lotus is close to the Indian community – it’s very significant,” revealed the artist.

“They’re partly closed in bud form, so the idea behind them was to show the anticipation of new beginnings, before going on to flourish.”

As for her more recent project, ‘Structural Gateway,’ the design started with the idea of a Banyan Tree – something which is also very symbolic in many South Asian countries.

“The trees grow to such a large size and they often create cavities within them that become sanctuaries,” she explained. “But they also throw down roots, which then become independent trees, so the symbolism with the gateway was partly that.

“The sculpture itself is like a shrine or a place of sanctuary, but the outside elements of it are almost like the shoots that have grown into new trees and it’s like the communities who came here – they were uprooted but they planted new shoots and flourished.

“On a simple level it’s also like two hands coming together to create this place of safety, and also there are two sides to represent the two countries – Uganda and the UK.  So there are lots of different levels of reading it and I quite like that. People can have their own interpretations of it, they can think about it in different ways…”

‘Structural Gateway’ sits on Belgrave Circle, and landscaping will be built up around it throughout 2024.

The funding for Sculptural Gateway, including the commissioning of the artist and the fabrication and install of the artwork, was funded by Leicester City Council at a cost of £200,000. 

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