Diverse Oxford portraits go on show at Weston Library
Diverse Oxford portraits go on show at Weston Library

Diverse Oxford portraits go on show at Weston Library

An exhibition of portraits commissioned to showcase the diversity of staff and past students at Oxford University opens today (Friday 24 November).

The Full Picture: Oxford in Portraits is held at the Weston Library and features more than 20 paintings, drawings and photographs commissioned earlier this year as part of the University’s Diversifying Portraiture project.

The initiative aims to broaden the range of people represented around the University and features living Oxonians including BBC journalist Reeta Chakrabarti, eminent astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, human rights activist Kumi Naidoo, film and television director Ken Loach, and broadcaster and charity campaigner Dame Esther Rantzen.

Portraits completed since the project was launched are on show in the Weston’s Blackwell Hall until early January. The exhibition – free and open to the public – features current academics and former students: a mixture of individuals including people with disabilities, people from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and people from LGBTQ+ communities. Sitters were selected from over a hundred nominations of living Oxonians.

The project is funded by the Oxford Diversity Fund, and the portraits will later be hung in the University’s Examination Schools, one of its most prominent spaces. The newly commissioned works will add to and complement Oxford’s rich collection of existing college and University portraits.

Dr Rebecca Surender, Advocate and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality and Diversity at Oxford University, said: ‘It is hugely important for students and staff to feel at home at Oxford, and to feel inspired by people they can relate to. This series of portraits, created by a talented group of artists, will broaden the range of people represented around the University. All of those nominated and selected to take part have made enormous contributions to Oxford life and to society more widely.

‘I’ve been looking forward immensely to seeing the portraits go on show at the Weston Library, and I hope people in Oxford will stop by to see this varied and exciting collection of works.’

Speaking when the project was launched earlier this year, BBC journalist Reeta Chakrabarti, who studied at Exeter College, Oxford, 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.’

Professor Patricia Daley, Professor of the Human Geography of Africa at Oxford University, said: ‘This project is a bold attempt by the University to make a statement about inclusivity, and I was happy to be part of it. Having my portrait painted by Binny Mathews was a wonderful experience and gave me plenty to think about – what it’s like to be an educator at Oxford, the importance of my contribution as a woman racialized as black, and the ways in which our physical features are perceived by others.’

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. 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!’

Professor Dame Valerie Beral of the Nuffield Department of Population Health, whose portrait features in the exhibition, said: ‘I’ve had interviews about my research over the years but this was my first portrait, and I was honoured and flattered. I believe an initiative like this hasn't been tried before and it seems a good idea.

‘I’ve been at Oxford for 30 years, and there are more women working here now than there were when I started, but there are still not as many in senior positions as I’d like. However, I believe it is quite high on the university’s priorities now to ensure that women are better represented, and I'm pleased about that.’

The full list of sitters and artists:

Diran Adebayo (novelist) – Rory Carnegie
Dr Norma Aubertin-Potter (librarian) – Emily Carrington Freeman
Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (astrophysicist) – Ben Hughes
Professor Dame Valerie Beral (epidemiologist) – Samantha Fellows
Professor Dorothy Bishop (developmental neuropsychologist) – Benjamin Sullivan
Reeta Chakrabarti (journalist) – Fran Monks
Dr Penelope Curtis (arts administrator) – Humphrey Ocean
Professor Patricia Daley (human geographer) – Binny Mathews
Professor Trisha Greenhalgh (primary health care scholar) – Fakhri Bismanto Bohang
Anne-Marie Imafidon (women in science campaigner) – Sarah Muirhead
Professor Dame Carole Jordan (astrophysicist) – Rupert Brooks
Professor Aditi Lahiri (linguistics scholar) – Rosalie Watkins
Kelsey Leonard (water scholar) – Courtney Leonard 
Hilary Lister (sailor) – Nicola Brandt
Ken Loach (director) – Richard Twose
Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch (historian) – Joanna Vestey
Jan Morris (writer) – Luca Coles
Dr Kumi Naidoo (human rights activist) – Fran Monks
Dr Henry Odili Nwume (Winter Olympian) – Sarah-Jane Moon
Dame Esther Rantzen (broadcaster and charity campaigner) – Ander McIntyre
Professor Lyndal Roper (historian) – Miranda Creswell
Professor Kathy Sylva (educational psychologist) – Pippa Thew
Dr Marie Tidball (lawyer and disability rights campaigner) – Clementine Webster
Jeanette Winterson (novelist) – Gerard Hanson