The University of Oxford have commissioned over twenty portraits of alumni and academics in an attempt to diversify the portraiture currently on display.
These new portraits feature a mix of genders and include people in the LGBTQ+ and BME communities, as well as those with disabilities and from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.
Chosen from a list of over a hundred nominees, the new faces are intended to inspire and reflect Oxford’s current and future bodies of students and academics.
One of the sitters, BBC journalist and Exeter college alumna, Reeta Chakrabarti, said: “I loved my time at Oxford. There weren’t—then—many people from my background at university there. But that didn’t stop my experience from being overwhelmingly good.
“I hope this project will show that Oxford is open to everyone, and that it wants to be more so. I hope too that it reflects present-day Oxford back at itself, and that it encourages an ever more diverse range of people to study there.”
Speaking to Cherwell, Professor of History of the Church at St Cross College, Diarmaid MacCulloch, said: “I was delighted and surprised to be included in this list, since, as an elderly white male, I’m not the most obvious person for a diversification project. But apart from being relieved at this proof that I’m not part of the establishment after all, I’m pleased by it because it’s a gesture of gratitude.
“A major strand in my career has been to live my life as a gay man who can’t see that there is any issue to get worried about. When male homosexuality was decriminalised in a limited way in 1967, I was fifteen, and gay teenagers were invisible in a society which seemed terrified of the whole subject or treated it as a subject for tribal jokes to marginalise the vulnerable.
“If I’ve given any self-confidence or hope to any young person simply by being there in public, then I will be thankful for a job well done.”
All Souls College Librarian, Dr Norma Aubertin-potter, another of those featured told Cherwell: “It has been a fascinating and interesting experience, in a library one is never really sure what query will arrive though the door and in my opinion it that that makes librarianship so exciting. Sitting for the artist, Emily Carrington Freeman, has been a real pleasure, and I am so thrilled with the result.”
Dr Marie Tidball, a research associate in Oxford’s Centre for Criminology and a disability rights campaigner, said: “Rendering diversity to be more visible in the places and spaces of Oxford reinforces the importance of its more central role in the University’s intellectual life.
“I was very moved indeed to have been nominated, and honoured to be part of this important project. It was wonderful for the University to recognise the importance of teaching and research about disability in academia.
“Symbols are important; there are millions of people with a disability in the UK but they have a lack of visibility in public spaces. More needs to be done to increase representation right across public life.’
“I am proud to have gone to a state school in South Yorkshire. I really hope that this speaks to kids now doing their GCSEs, from all kinds of backgrounds, and makes them think about coming here.
“Working with Clementine Webster (the artist) was a very special, and surprisingly relaxing, experience. After a busy year, I really appreciated the time to reflect and be still!”
The project is funded by the Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity Fund which had previously highlighted current portraits from around the University which featured people who challenged stereotypes in their successful careers.
Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Louise Richardson said: “There is nothing quite like walking into a room and seeing someone who looks like you honoured in a portrait on the wall. It is so important for all of us to be reminded that achievement and leadership come in all colours, shapes, and sizes.”
This initiative mirrors a similar direction shown on a college level. Last year, Balliol College picture fund reps were behind the hanging of a portrait of Carol Clark, the first female Fellow of an ancient college in Oxford, in their hall.
This was a result of the JCR’s desire to encourage diversity and to redress the balance away from the predominance of white males in college portraits.
Not all of the portraits, which are comprised mostly of paintings and photographs, have been completed but all will be displayed in an exhibition at the University later this year.
They will then be adding to, not replacing, the current collection of portraits seen around the University.
The new portraits and artists:
Diran Adebayo (novelist) — Rory Carnegie
Dr Norma Aubertin-Potter (librarian at All Souls College) — Emily Freeman
Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (astrophysicist) — Ben Hughes
Professor Dame Valerie Beral (Professor of Epidemiology) — Samantha Fellows
Professor Dorothy Bishop (Professor of Developmental Neuropsychology) — Benjamin Sullivan
Reeta Chakrabarti (BBC journalist) — Fran Monks
Dr Penelope Curtis (arts administrator and former director of Tate Britain) — Humphrey Ocean
Professor Patricia Daley (Professor of the Human Geography of Africa) — Binny Mathews
Professor Trisha Greenhalgh (primary health care scholar) — Fakhri Bismanto
Anne-Marie Imafidon (women in science campaigner) — Sarah Muirhead
Professor Dame Carole Jordan (astrophysicist) — Robert Brooks
Professor Aditi Lahiri (Professor of Linguistics) — Rosalie Watkins
Kelsey Leonard (ﬁrst Native American woman to earn a degree from the University) — artist to be confirmed
Hilary Lister (first disabled woman to sail solo around Britain) — Nicola Brandt
Ken Loach (television and film director) — Richard Twose
Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch (Professor of the History of the Church) — Joanna Vestey
Jan Morris (historian, author, and travel writer) — Luca Coles
Kumi Naidoo (South African human rights activist) — Fran Monks
Dr Henry Odili Nwume (Winter Olympics British bobsledder) — Sarah-Jane Moon
Dame Esther Rantzen (broadcaster) — Ander McIntyre
Professor Lyndal Roper (Regius Professor of History) — Miranda Crewswell
Professor Kathy Sylva (Professor of Educational Psychology) — Pippa Thew
Marie Tidball (member of the University’s Law Faculty and disability rights campaigner) — Clementine Webster
Jeanette Winterson (novelist) — Gerard Hanson