Oxford University is shaking up the portraits of white men on its walls

Image: Shutterstock / Pawel Pajor

Oxford University is putting up more portraits of women, people of colour and LGBTQ people to better reflect its “diversity”.

The “Diversifying Portraiture initiative” intends to “broaden the range of people represented around the University.” According to a statement, the university seeks to “reflect and promote its increasing diversity and its commitment to inclusivity”.

The university has been heavily criticised in recent years for its lack of diversity and inclusivity. Last year David Cameron pointed out that the top university accepted only 27 black British students in 2014 out of an intake of more than 2,500. Indeed, until the 1970s, several of the university’s colleges were still all-male and didn’t admit women as undergraduates.

As part of the initiative, the university has commissioned over 20 new portraits of former students and current academics. The sitters include author Jeanette Winterson, BBC journalist Reeta Chakrabarti, astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, and human rights activist Kumi Naidoo. The sitters were chosen from over a hundred nominations of living Oxonians.

Professor Patricia Daley painted by Binny Mathews.

Image: oxford university

“I loved my time at Oxford. There werent then many people from my background at university there. But that didnt stop my experience from being overwhelmingly good,” Chakrabarti, who studied at Exeter College, Oxford, said in a statement.

“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,” she continued.

The newly commissioned works will feature in the university’s central public spaces and the portraits will be shown at an exhibition in Oxford later this year.

Professor Patricia Daley, professor of the Human Geography of Africa, who was chosen to be one of the sitters, said the project is a bold attempt by the university to make a statement about inclusivity.

“Having my portrait painted by Binny Mathews was a wonderful experience and gave me plenty to think about what its 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,” Daley continued.

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