The University of Leeds Art Collection, with thanks to the Friends of University Art and Music, has made an important new acquisition by purchasing Leeds alumna Sutapa Biswas’s work ‘Synapse 1’ (1987-1992). 

Thirty-five years ago, Bengal-born Biswas interviewed to study at the University of Leeds, making history as the first South Asian artist to study Fine Art at the University.  

On the interview panel was recent Holberg Prize-winner Professor Griselda Pollock. This interview was the starting point for an important collaborative relationship between Pollock and Biswas. 

Artist Sutapa Biswas said of her time at the University of Leeds:  

‘My experience at the University has had a lasting effect on me, but will always remain life-changing for both myself and Griselda. And if I may suggest, it will have been transformative for all those students at the University of Leeds and more widely, whom Griselda and I have subsequently taught. Our shared learning and relationship, has shifted the emphasis of what is now taught in art history and practice as disciplines.’ 

Sutapa Biswas, Synapse 1 (no.1 of 4), 1987-1992, hand-printed photograph. © The Artist.

Following her time at the University of Leeds, Biswas has become a nationally and internationally renowned artist whose work questions identity, race and gender, and has made a vital contribution to the Black Arts Movement in Britain, as well as to British art.  

The new acquisition, ‘Synapse 1’, explores her first return visit to India since leaving as a child. This encounter inspired her to begin research into her own experience as an Indian artist in a post-colonial world. The work, a set of hand-printed unique photographs which is part of a larger series, was created in response to the sculptural richness of the Buddhist Ajanta caves and other Hindu sites. Daringly, in terms of Indian conventions, she worked with her own naked body as the ‘holder’ or surface onto which she projected photographic images that she cradles against her belly. 

Sutapa Biswas, Synapse 1 (no.2 of 4), 1987-1992, hand-printed photograph. © The Artist.

Professor Griselda Pollock said of Biswas’s work: 

‘One of the most brilliant fine art students to graduate from the School of Fine Art, Sutapa Biswas has gained an international reputation for her extraordinary exploration, both poignantly affecting and critically astute, of the fragile body and the systems of power which it captures. Long before decolonizing the curriculum became an international issue, she challenged us to think about race and gender through challenging but always artistically stunning works in pastel, photography and performance.  It is truly wonderful to have a monumental work in the University’s collection created during her first trip back to India since she had left it as a small child.’  

Sutapa Biswas, Synapse 1 (no.3 of 4), 1987-1992, hand-printed photograph. © The Artist.

The work was purchased by the Friends of University Art and Music (FUAM) for the University Art Collection. This purchase was made as part of their 30th anniversary celebrations. FUAM was founded in 1989 to promote and support art and music at the University of Leeds.  

Chair of FUAM, Martin Staniforth said about the purchase: 

‘I am delighted that FUAM has been able to help the Gallery acquire this major work by Sutapa Biswas using funds from its 30th anniversary appeal and in doing so to showcase the work of a distinguished Leeds alumna.’ 

Sutapa Biswas, Synapse 1 (no.4 of 4), 1987-1992, hand-printed photograph. © The Artist.

‘Synapse 1’ will be on display in The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery when it re-opens later this autumn. Entry is free. For more details and opening times, when the Gallery is re-opened visit library.leeds.ac.uk/galleries