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Oxford commissions portraits to reflect diversity

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H M Cotterill

Twenty-four people have been selected from over 100 names put forward by current and former members of the University, to have their portraits done and exhibited later this year. The criteria set for potential nominees was that they were to be living, to have a significant link to Oxford, and to be making (or, indeed, have made) a major difference to the University or the wider world.

The portraits, comprising both 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, and is part of its Diversifying Portraiture initiative. Funded by the Vice-Chancellor’s Diversity Fund, the project has two phases: first to collect and catalogue existing portraits from around the university, and second to commission portraits of living Oxonians.

Currently, the portraits which line the walls in the hall of every Oxford college celebrate historic diversity; they feature founders, benefactors and scholars who are primarily male and white. The initiative aims to capture and celebrate a much broader range of individuals, and to reflect the rich diversity of Oxford’s current academics and former students. These new commissions will not replace any current portraits, but will instead add to the collection.

Among those to have a portrait commissioned is ReetaChakrabarti, who studied Modern Languages and English at Exeter College and now works as a presenter and correspondent for BBC News. Reacting to the news, she revealed that she felt “very honoured to have been chosen”, adding: “I hope this project will show that Oxford is open to everyone, and that it […] encourages an ever more diverse range of people to study there.”

The initiative aims to capture and celebrate a much broader range of individuals, and to reflect the rich diversity of Oxford’s current academics and former students.

Ken Loach, the director whose film I, Daniel Blake won the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and was awarded the BAFTA for Best British Film this year, also features. He studied Jurisprudence at St Peter’s College, where he is an honorary fellow, and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree in 2005 by Oxford.

Another familiar face is Dame Esther Rantzen, who read English at Somerville College. She is the founder of ChildLine and The Silver Line, helplines which offer advice and information to children and lonely older people respectively. She was appointed DBE in 2015 for the work of these helplines, and is an Honorary Fellow of Somerville.

One of the younger members on the list, who was recognised in the New Year’s Honours List earlier this year for services to young women and STEM sectors, is Anne-Marie Imafidon. The founder of Stemettes, an award-winning social enterprise which works to inspire and support the next generation of females into STEM fields, she was admitted to Oxford at the age of 16, and went on to complete a Master’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science at Keble College. Commenting on the fact that 19 of the 24 sitters are women, she tweeted that she was “honoured to be a part of this alongside some incredible women”.

The new portraits, some of which have already been completed, will be shown at an exhibition later this year before being dispersed around Oxford, featuring in the University’s central public spaces.

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