New artwork unveiled as part of University’s Centenary celebrations

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Vice-Chancellor and President at the University of Leicester, with artist Vishal Joshi at the unveiling of Hands of Freedom.

A pioneering new piece of public artwork by the Leicester-based artist Vishal Joshi has been unveiled today (Saturday) on the University of Leicester’s campus, as part of its Centenary celebrations.

The artwork, titled Hands of Freedom, is part of a collaboration between the University of Leicester, Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester Cathedral, ArtReach, and Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, and depicts a series of symbolic hand gestures to celebrate difference, inclusion and unity.

To create the large sculptures, Vishal sought 1,000 individual ‘hand portraits’ from the Leicester community, which have been layered-up and collaged onto four large hand sculptures displayed throughout the city – with the final piece being unveiled on the University of Leicester campus.

The project honours the unique and diverse make-up of the City of Leicester by representing the identities of those who submit their drawings for inclusion

Speaking about the project, artist Vishal Joshi said: “A core aim of this project is to encourage people to feel united, we are all going through something together, and we need to persist in that belief that we will get through it! #beliefisimperative”

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Vice-Chancellor and President at the University of Leicester said: “We are proud to be launching such an innovative project bringing together the Leicester community in such a unique way in our Centenary year. 

“As a city under lockdown for much of last year, Leicester has shown strength, unity and resilience by coming together – this artwork is a poignant expression of this sentiment.

“In creating Hands of Freedom, Vishal Joshi has offered us an artwork installation which celebrates difference, inclusion and unity – the cornerstone of our ethos as a University and as a city.” 

Michaela Butter, Director at Attenborough Arts Centre said: “As part of the University’s Centenary celebrations, Attenborough Arts is delighted to be supporting this exciting commission that draws on the rich creativity and diversity of our local communities. It is always a particular pleasure when we are able to support a local artist such as Vishal to create new work and raise their profile nationally.”

Hands and hand-gestures are used across all cultures to express emotions and feelings; sometimes confusion and anger, at other times friendship and hope. Hands of Freedom draws on the iconic hand symbology used to express freedom, peace and liberty, and uses this imagery to prompt acknowledgment and appreciation of these ideals. 

The artworks submitted by the public have been overpainted by the artist in his signature style and temporarily installed in the following locations: 

  • Leicester Cathedral 
  • The University of Leicester
  • Leicester Museum and Gallery toilet spaces, as part of ArtReach's Liberty UK Festival and their Accessible Art for All project 

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