Trinity College’s hall is hosting an art exhibition which showcases
work by one of Oxford University’s first ever Aboriginal Australian students.

The exhibition by DPhil student Christian Thompson is the first to be held in the college’s Hall for 450 years. His paintings will temporarily replace portraits of alumni including Cardinal John Newman and two British Prime Ministers.

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Thompson told Cherwell, “The exhibition in the Trinity Dining Hall is a survey show of my work spanning the last 13 years. It’s an amazing honour and massive vote of confidence that Trinity believe in my work in this way; a touching gesture and an opportunity to share my work with my college and the broader Oxford community.”

He continued, “I am one of the first Aboriginal Australian students to ever be accepted into the University in its 900-year history, and the first artist to hang his works in place of the formal portraits in 450 years of Trinity’s history. It is a generous way to celebrate these landmark historical moments.”

Thompson, 34, arrived at Trinity in 2010 as the inaugural Charlie Perkins scholar, and graduates this year with a doctorate in Fine Art. He has had
seven solo exhibitions since 2002, and won the 2007 Australian Postgraduate Award.

He stated, “My art is the space between my conscious and unconscious world. I delve into both realms and what I retrieve manifests itself in my work.”

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The exhibition was organised by Trinity’s Estates Bursar Kevin Knott, after Thompson’s successful exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum last year. College fellows voted unanimously to allow the hall to be used. 

Knott said, “As well as studying for his DPhil in Fine Art, Christian is a very successful contemporary artist. The College decided that it would like to show its support for him and, at the same time, to ring in the changes by showing his works here in Hall. Unsurprisingly, the student and public response has been mixed, but personally I think that they fit in very well and am pleased that Trinity’s governing body agreed to this break with tradition.”

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The decision to take down alumni portraits has been criticised by some
Trinitarians. JCR President Andrew Butler said, “Naturally the move to put Christian’s work in Hall has been controversial, yet in many ways this is its greatest attraction because it allows us to view a very traditional space in a new light. From the perspective of the undergraduates, opinion has been mixed but I feel that having something different to chat about and appreciate at dinner has been widely appreciated.”

MCR President Anna Regoutz agreed. “To replace the traditional portraits has shown what a great exhibition space our Hall can be. In my opinion, and I think most postgraduates would agree with me, we would love to see exhibitions like this happen more often.”

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Most undergraduates also responded positively to the exhibition. Crawford Jamieson, a first-year theologian at Trinity, commented, “It’s not my normal cup of tea, but there’s an interesting juxtaposition between Thompson’s artwork and Trinity’s architecture.”

Joel Scott-Hughes, a student at Ruskin School of Art, argued, “It’s important to keep things different, and expose people to as many styles as possible. Traditional portraiture is only considered superior because we live in a western society – it’s good to challenge people’s conceptions of what portraits should look like.”

Thompson’s exhibition costs £2 and runs until 8th February.