The portraits – mostly paintings and photographs – include a mixture of men and women and feature people with disabilities, people from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and people from LGBTQ+ communities.
The project, funded by the Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity Fund, previously catalogued existing paintings from around the University that highlight the range of pioneering figures whose achievements over the centuries have challenged the stereotypes of their time. New sitters were selected from over a hundred nominations of living Oxonians.
Dr Marie Tidball, a research associate in Oxford’s Centre for Criminology and a disability rights campaigner, sat for her portrait, by Clementine St John Webster, in the Warden’s Lodgings at Wadham. She 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. Working with Clementine Webster was a joy, and the sittings were a very special, and surprisingly relaxing, experience. After a busy year, I really appreciated the time to reflect and be still!’
Diran Adebayo is a novelist and cultural critic best known for his chronicling of Afro-British lives, and his distinctive, rhythmic prose. His photographic portrait was taken by Rory Carnegie in Wadham’s seventeenth century dining hall, with a portrait of alumnus Sir Christopher Wren clearly visible behind him.
The new portraits will be shown at an exhibition in Oxford’s Weston Library later this year. Following the exhibition, the paintings will be displayed in the Examination Schools building in Oxford’s High Street, where students have their first lectures and sit their exams.
Film and television director Ken Loach, BBC journalist Reeta Chakrabarti, eminent astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, award-winning author Jeanette Winterson, and human rights activist Kumi Naidoo are among those sitting for portraits as Oxford seeks to reflect and promote its increasing diversity and its commitment to inclusivity.
Artists include Benjamin Sullivan, Joanna Vestey and Ander McIntyre, and the sitters comprise current academics and former students.
Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, 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.’
Trudy Coe, Head of the Equality and Diversity Unit at Oxford University, said: ‘This project is so important because it highlights and celebrates the full range of diversity at Oxford across our alumni and staff. Many colleges have already commissioned new works of art celebrating female alumnae, and we hope that this project will encourage all our departments and colleges to think of ways to celebrate the full diversity of our staff and student body, as an inspiration to current and future students and staff.’