Carnival designer selected to create new mural celebrating Leeds West Indian Carnival

We’re thrilled to announce that visual artist and costume designer Rhian Kempadoo-Millar has been selected to design a new mural in Chapeltown, which celebrates the rich, vibrant history of Leeds West Indian Carnival.

The public artwork – commissioned by East Street Arts in partnership with the Carnival Committee and Leeds City Council – will be developed this autumn, following the 56th year of the iconic carnival.

Rhian – who studied Theatre & Costume Design at Central St Martins, London, and Millinery at Leeds College of Art – has worked as a costume designer for carnival, video games and film between the UK, USA and The Caribbean for over 25 years. As a visual artist, she creates original canvases and large-scale art pieces using Caribbean heritage, masquerade characters, dance and carnival as a vehicle for issues such as politics, race, trauma and gender.

Fusing her significant knowledge of designing for Leeds Carnival over the last 25 years and her experience as a painter, Rhian will work with the local community to help shape the design of a mural that is distinctive and meaningful for Chapeltown.

Rhian said: “Every year this part of Chapeltown is alive with creativity – Carnival creates a bridge between our Caribbean heritage while also bringing together all generations, working to keep our art forms – such as steelpan, calypso, dance and costume – alive and kicking.

"I am aiming to create something which honours Leeds West Indian Carnival and makes the community proud of all we have achieved artistically and culturally over these years.” Rhian Kempadoo-Millar

To assist with realising this ambitious, large-scale project, Rhian will enlist the support of two well-known local artists – Alan Pergusey and Reggie Challenger – as well as her son Tiago Kempadoo-Millar who is studying Concept Art BA at Stafforshire University.

Members of the Leeds West Indian Carnival said: “Leeds West Indian Carnival attracts thousands of people to Chapeltown to share in the celebration of emancipation, our local community, our identity, and our culture. Every August, a stunning display of colour and sheer joy winds its way through the streets. 

"We're thrilled to be working with Rhian - a member of the carnival family - and East Street Arts to bring a piece of this vibrancy and history to the neighbourhood as a permanent tribute. We can't wait to see the mural unveiled and look forward to sharing it with you all!”

Helen Moore, Engagement Lead at East Street Arts, said: “We’re incredibly excited to be working with Rhian on the development of a mural to celebrate Leeds West Indian Carnival. Her passion for carnival is palpable – she has the carnival ethos running through her veins! We were really impressed by the potential that Rhian’s unique experience in carnival costume design, and her ability to showcase the vibrancy and colour of Caribbean culture in her paintings can bring to the piece.

"We believe that her deep relationship with carnival and Chapeltown, and determination for working collaboratively with the community, will result in an artwork that does justice to the iconic carnival in Leeds, and is enjoyed by many for years to come.” Helen Moore

Rhian’s artwork will complement an upcoming series of carnival-themed East Street Arts projects taking place this year, in collaboration with Leeds West Indian Carnival. Hot on the heels of the large-scale celebration in August, Leeds Carnival will make a spectacular return to Leeds city centre for Heritage Open Day on Saturday 16 September, with a pop-up street performance on New Briggate. And, in December, artist and fashion designer Yaku Stapleton will present an exhibition of clothing reimagined for the communities in Leeds today, which takes inspiration from untold tales of Leeds’ history of clothing, textiles and tailoring from New Briggate to carnival, and beyond. These two projects are part of East Street Arts’ Hidden Histories of New Briggate programme – designed to bring people together, through art, to explore the culture and heritage of the historic high street, New Briggate.

The mural will also be the latest in East Street Arts’ award-winning A City Less Grey series which brings new and unique artwork to the streets and neighbourhoods of Leeds. Rhian’s artwork will sit alongside pieces across the city including: Add Fuel’s Burmantofts Pottery-inspired mural ‘ECHOES’ on Mabgate; the epic ‘Athena Rising’ mural on the Platform building near Leeds Train Station by NOMAD Clan; and Ian Kirkpatrick’s ‘Hare of Harehills’ outside The Compton Centre.

The project is produced by Shazia Bibi, Programme Producer at East Street Arts. It is funded by Leeds Inspired, Wade’s Charity, Leeds 2023, Inner North East Community Committee, and Housing Advisory Panel INE. It is sponsored by Vertu Motors, Unity Housing, Rushbond, Connect Housing, North Brewing, and Maureen’s Catering. The project has also been supported by Moving Homes.

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