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Lesley Sanderson

Born, 1962 in Malaysia

Lesley Sanderson was born in Malaysia in 1962, to a British father and a Chinese mother. She studied Fine Art at Sheffield Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University) from 1981 to 1984. The south Yorkshire city has remained her home for a number of years and Sanderson is one of the city’s most active and prolific artists. Alongside her studio practice, Sanderson teaches at Sheffield Hallam University.

Her earlier works are characterised by a distinctive, proficient and prolific drawing style. In the mid to late 1980s she produced a number of large-scale drawings that were most often rendered as self-portrait which sought to explore her identity as a woman of dual Chinese and British heritage, a combination in which she felt her Chinese aspect dominated and indeed eclipsed many other aspects of her perceived or imposed identity. Sanderson’s work at this time set out to critique what she regarded as problematic stereotypes associated with those women of the world who were described, painted, sculpted and considered as being exotic. In part, Sanderson’s intentions in these earlier works were to confront these stereotypes and declare herself to be her own woman, her own person, on her own terms. Lesley Sanderson is a Malaysian British artist who lives and works in Sheffield and London. Together with Neil Conroy she has exhibited in East International, the Bluecoat Gallery and Tate Liverpool. These formidable drawings, which were most frequently rendered as oil pastel on paper or acrylic and oil on canvas, were shown in exhibitions such as Black Art: Plotting the Course, History and Identity and Four x 4.


For Four x 4, Sanderson critiqued a bust of Clytie, the female figure from Greek mythology, interpreted by the Victorian artist George Frederick Watts, R.A., 1817-1904, that stood in the Harris Museum, Preston (the venue for the exhibition). It seemed to Sanderson that the figure of Clytie, her breasts exposed to meet the male gaze, was, in her apparent objectification, an empathetic symbol. Using as her starting point the dramatic device of Clytie turning her head away to look at the sun, Sanderson produced a series of sensitive drawings of herself, which hung within proximity of the Clytie bust. In so doing, Sanderson created one of the most original and poignant installations of the Four x 4 project. As the artist herself had stated, a few years earlier: “I think it’s particularly important that non-white women are represented in a way that provides an alternative to National Geographic-type media representations of ‘ethnic’ women being exotic, submissive and readily available for the gaze.”

Within a few years of establishing herself as a visual artist, Sanderson’s work was to be included on several prestigious exhibitions. These included The British Art Show of 1990 and New North, a look at the practice of a number of artists based in the north of England, that took place at the then recently-opened Tate Liverpool. Such curatorial successes have continued and her work was, in more recent times, included in the-then annual East International exhibition.

By the mid 1990s Sanderson had moved away from direct self-portraiture and was making work that made creative and considered use of materials such as fabric and glass. This mixed media worked marked a profound and important departure for Sanderson, though as with her earlier work, this new body similarly required the viewer to consider the ways in which the artist’s identity was constructed both by society and by the artist herself. Her major curatorial undertaking of this period was These Colours Run, a touring exhibition that originated at Wrexham Library Arts Centre.

Sanderson’s work again changed dramatically in the late 1990s when she began collaborating with Neil Conroy. Exhibiting as Conroy/Sanderson, their practice most clearly centres on notions of identity and hybridity, and frequently utilises mixed media, site-specific, performance and installation elements in a variety of gallery and non-gallery settings. Seeking to create critical dialogues, they critique conventions, assumptions and pathologies surrounding, race, gender, culture, nationality and identity. Seeing each other and themselves as wholly equal units, Conroy/Sanderson seek to blur, distort, or circumvent the perceived or imposed hierarchies associated with cultural and racial hegemonies.

A highly prolific artist, Sanderson has exhibited in numerous curatorial and gallery projects, both in the UK and internationally.

In the late 1990s she exhibited in Transforming the Crown: African, Asian and Caribbean Artists in Britain, which was shown at a number of venues in New York.

More recently, as Conroy/Sanderson she has shown in galleries in Lithuania, Austria, Hong Kong, Shanghai, China, London, Norwich, Ireland and elsewhere.

Lesley Sanderson’s work was included in the book Shades of Black: Assembling Black Arts in 1980s Britain.

Related items

click to show details of Four X 4

»  Four X 4

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1991

click to show details of History and Identity | Seven Painters

»  History and Identity | Seven Painters

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1991

click to show details of Shades of Black (book)

»  Shades of Black (book)

Book relating to a publication, 2005

click to show details of Shades of Black book review (Art Monthly)

»  Shades of Black book review (Art Monthly)

Review relating to a publication, 2005

click to show details of Transforming the Crown

»  Transforming the Crown

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1997

Related exhibitions

Related venues + view all 10

»  Arnolfini

Bristol, United Kingdom

»  Castle Museum

Nottingham, United Kingdom

»  City Gallery Leicester

Leicester, United Kingdom

»  Lincolnshire College of Art and Design

Lincoln, United Kingdom

»  Norwich Gallery

Norwich, United Kingdom