JLife’s Sarah Nelson talks to artist, curator and facilitator Antonia Stowe about her source of inspiration, Leeds-based projects and work on the Holocaust Memorial Sculpture.
What does being an artist, curator and facilitator entail?
As an artist I create artwork and as a curator I bring together different creative projects in a particular context or contexts. Being a facilitator means that I organise and manage projects from inception through to completion, but there’s a lot of cross-over between the roles.
What led to your career path?
I completed my Foundation course many moons ago in Leeds, a BA Hons in Hull and went on to do an MA at Leeds Metropolitan University. I don’t think there is a step-by-step approach to an artist’s career path – or at least if there is, I don’t know about it!
My brother and I were always taken to art galleries and museums by our parents, along with going travelling and walking outdoors. I think a defining moment for me was when we went to the Natural History Museum at seven years of age. When we went into the room with the blue whale, the scale had a profound impact on me. Art has the ability to nudge and challenge our senses.
What projects have you worked on in Leeds?
I’ve worked in many different settings like education, community and public open spaces including parks and, more recently, in the retail environment at Trinity Leeds. I created a sculpture called ‘Sheep’ at Marshalls Mill, a garden in Leeds, Millennium Square and, more recently, Leeds’ latest owl at the Trinity Leeds shopping centre, as well as commissioning artists for the scheme.
What is the Holocaust Memorial Sculpture?
The Holocaust Memorial Sculpture – titled ‘6 Million+’ – has grown out of my installation that toured from 2005 to 2011. On its return to Huddersfield there was an overwhelming response to create a permanent memorial and in 2013 our project team undertook site appraisals and the design was developed, being based on six teardrops covered in buttons and cast in bronze. The project has grown considerably from a small project team to now having the 6 Million + Charitable Trust in addition to the project delivery team.
The six tear drop forms reference the six million+ Jews and others murdered during the Holocaust and genocides since the Second World War. Buttons will be placed individually onto the surface of a tear drop form which represents many physical and emotional characteristics. As well as representing grief, mourning, and joy, this is a metaphor for water passing through, a fundamental element of our existence.
The connection between water, land and human spirit has created a strong metaphorical and geographical link for me throughout this design process.
To what extent has Jewish culture inspired your work?
I am not specifically inspired by any one particular culture but there are so many great visual artists from Jewish heritage that inspire me. These include, among others, Jacob Kramer, Chana Orloff, Naum Gabo, Zadok Ben David, Christian Boltanski and my close friend painter Judith Levin. While Jewish culture is very much part of my heritage, I have never considered it as the only starting point in my work. However, one could argue that creativity is so personal and therefore heritage must play some part in the process.
What are your most memorable projects?
The Holocaust Memorial installation and soon-to-be (subject to funding) sculpture is an incredibly powerful project to be involved with. Genocide is such an emotive and difficult subject to talk about and I have met survivors from all over the world; every day I am thankful and proud of the home Britain has given our family and our communities.
The Trinity Leeds retail shopping development was a great highlight and exciting to be involved with. Being able to give opportunities to artists in the region has been a fabulous journey and I am still involved but in a much smaller capacity as the arts facilitator.
What else are you up to?
I am working on the design and fabrication of a new feature gate at Oakwell Hall in Birstall and last July completed work on the Bramley War memorial.
Do you have any advice for budding artists?
Keep your heart at the centre of everything you do and surround yourself with other creative practitioners and positive people who share your passion. It isn’t an easy journey to choose, but which one is?
For further information about Antonia’s work, visit Antoniastowe.com, and to learn more about 6 million+, visit 6millionplus.org.