Magdalen College has commissioned portraits of 25 of its staff and students to showcase the college’s diversity and “more accurately” represent the college community.
Featuring cooks, cleaners, teachers, and researchers, as well as members of the college’s student body, the new portraits were taken by award-winning photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert and will hang in Magdalen’s hall until autumn 2019.
Of these portraits, half are of women – a stark contrast to before this project, when paintings of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth Fricker (the college’s first female fellow) were the only two portraits of women hanging in hall.
The vast majority of paintings in the college’s hall represent its mainly male founders and historic supporters.
JCR President Calla Randall emphasises that the exhibition aims to strike a “balance between the old and the new” and told the BBC: “I was elected on a mandate to expand the representation of Magdalen’s community in the most important central space.”
She added: “Magdalen’s undergraduates, graduates, and academics came together with the common purpose of ensuring that our portraiture more accurately reflects our community.”
The subjects of these portraits, including many LGBTQ+ and BME members of the college, were selected through an anonymous voting process.
With recent access reports reiterating concerns about diversity at Oxford, the college has opted to house the new portraits in its main hall, where it hopes they will inspired applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds.
JCR Access and Admissions Representative Mia Portman told Cherwell: “Outreach at Magdalen is often about giving prospective applicants a sense of daily life in College – people need to feel welcome and be able to picture themselves living here.
“On that basis, our dining hall should reflect the community of students who eat, chat, and relax there every day; the portrait exhibition achieves this by bringing warmth and immediacy to a very grand, traditional space.”
But Rhodes Must Fall Oxford’s Femi Nylander, though acknowledging that the project is a step in the right direction, has raised issue with the fact that the exhibition is likely to end in a year, suggesting: “Oxford still has a long way to go in terms of diversity and dealing with its own past.”