In a bid to counter its ‘male, pale and stale’ image Oxford University is replacing some portraits of famous men with female, black and gay leaders.
Oxford University said yesterday its Diversifying Portraiture project – aimed at recognising the ‘diversity of figures’ who have helped shape the institution – was launched after a successful funding bid in May 2014.
It said: ‘In the first phase, we collected more than 250 portraits already on display around Oxford, depicting pioneering individuals who challenged the stereotypes and preconceptions of their times.’
The university added in a statement: ‘The second phase is now well under way.’
‘We have asked the University community for suggestions for 25 fresh portraits of living figures connected to Oxford, representing our diversity in gender, race, disability and LGBTQ identity.
‘Nominations close on July 8 and we hope to have the portraits ready for display early in the New Year.
‘The university project complements many similar initiatives undertaken by Oxford colleges in recent years.’
Dr Stephen Goss, Oxford University Pro Vice-Chancellor for Personnel and Equality, added: ‘It has been uplifting to see so many initiatives to celebrate the great diversity of inspiring characters from the University’s past and present.
‘Our next phase of portraits will be displayed prominently at sites right across the University, reflecting the remarkable contributions made by so many individuals to modern Oxford’s culture of inclusion, equality and tolerance.’
The National Union of Students’ Black Students’ Campaign had described Oxford University as ‘one of the most male, pale and stale places of learning in Britain’.
Led by Ntokozo Qwabe, a South African-born Rhodes scholar, students had campaigned for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College.
They had argued that it was a reminder of apartheid. The movement,had been backed by Malia Bouattia, now head of the NUS.
However, the movement met with condemnation worldwide. Furious donors threatened to withdraw gifts and bequests worth more than £100million so Oriel’s governing body had ruled out removing the statue in January.
Oxford is now commissioning artists to paint dozens of new portraits to hang in its ancient buildings at a cost of £900 each.
Stickers with the words ‘next in frame’ have been put up around Oxford, asking students and staff to nominate suitable subjects by the end of this week.
In addition, colleges are already redecorating dining and lecture halls with new pictures and photographs to reflect the diversity of their alumni.
Pictures of author Jonathan Swift, 16th century poet John Donne and bible translator William Tyndale were all removed. And portraits of TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky, author Hari Kunzru and journalist Naomi Wolf have been put up.
Oxford has faced intense international scrutiny over the presence of longstanding male symbols.
It was revealed yesterday that a photograph of feminist and former Rhodes scholar, Naomi Wolf, will go on display in Rhodes House, home of the scholarship scheme that pays for non-British postgraduates to study at Oxford.
Naomi Wolf had left Oxford in the 1980s without finishing her doctorate after encountering ‘horrible’ sexism and anti-semitism. She returned more than 20 years later to complete it.
Ms Wolf insisted that ‘changing iconography helps to change how you see history’.
She told a newspaper: ‘In my college, New College, there are portraits of men everywhere.
‘While pictures are not the same as gender or race equality, I do not think this is trivial. If all you see are white men, white men, white men, it is very hard to believe that people in your society think you have a place in history.’
Some of the Rhodes scholars who fought for colonial independence have also been placed on the walls of the Rhodes House, to flank the portrait of Rhodes, who is regarded by some as racist.
These include Zambian activist, Lucy Banda Sichone and Prime Minister of Jamaica Norman Manley (right), who died in 1969, and who started the independence movement in Jamaica.
In February, Wadham College unveiled portraits of the journalist Amelia Gentleman, wife of Universities Minister, Jo Johnson, and novelist and journalist, Hari Kunzru, as part of a project ‘to showcase a more balanced’ selection of alumni and fellows’ images.
A portrait of the first female Anglican bishop, the Right Reverend Libby Lane, was hung in St Peter’s College in January
Wadham’s warden, Lord Macdonald, said at the time: ‘I wanted to address the predominance in Hall and around College of portraits of white men.
‘The Wadham community is a diverse and inclusive one and, until now, this has not been reflected by the portraits which adorn its walls.’
A portrait of the first female Anglican bishop, the Right Reverend Libby Lane, was hung in St Peter’s College in January. She was an undergraduate at St Peter’s in the mid-1980s.