Phenomenal Women

10th October 2020

The Queen's Walk, Southbank Centre, London

Wadham alumna Phoebe Okowa (BCL, 1988) is featured in a new exhibition, Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors, at London’s Southbank Centre

  • (L-R): Adele Jones, Bernadine Evaristo and Dorothy Monekosso. Photos by Bill Knight

    (L-R): Adele Jones, Bernadine Evaristo and Dorothy Monekosso. Photos by Bill Knight

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors, is a celebration of Black British academics, brought to the public in a unique free outdoor exhibition.

Commissioned and curated by Dr Nicola Rollock, and photographed by Bill Knight, it features portraits of 45 professors across a broad range of subjects including law, medicine, creative writing and sociology. 

The exhibition runs from 10 October - 8 November 2020, timed to coincide with Black History Month, and is presented along the Southbank Centre’s public riverside promenade The Queen’s Walk. 

Commenting on her participation in this project, alumna Phoebe Okowa said: "The aim of the project was to document the achievements of  black women in UK academia but more importantly to highlight the persistent issue of under-representation in the institutions where we work. On the first day of the exhibition, at the Headquarters of Law firm Paul Hastings in London, what was most commented on was the fact that the portraits of all the  black women professors in the UK could fit in one small room! Out of the 19,285 professors in the UK, only 35 are black women. I also took part because it provided an opportunity to be part of a community whose concerns are frequently misunderstood, for instance the mentoring and support that we provide for black students is in most cases unacknowledged and under-commemorated . In the end, I  hope the exhibition and conversations around it, will play a small role in managing the aspirations of black women who aspire to academia, that their dreams and aspirations are valid." 

Phoebe is Professor of Public International Law and Director of Graduate Studies at Queen Mary, University of London

Amongst the 45 women being celebrated in the first-ever public exhibition to honour Britain's Black female professors are award-winning author Bernadine Evaristo , poet and playwright Joan Anim-Addo and the first woman ever to be appointed head of a UK dental school, Cynthia Pine. 

Dr Rollock’s 2019 research showed the barriers faced by Black women as they worked to navigate their way through higher education and the strategies they used to help them reach professorship. Fewer than 1% of professors in the UK are Black despite increases in overall levels of academic staff.

Black women represent the smallest group when both race and gender are considered together. They are three times less likely to be professors than their White female counterparts and half as likely as Black men.