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Oxford plugs Indians, non-whites to improve image

The initiative comes against the backdrop of a recent race controversy and the demand to remove the statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes from the university.

world Updated: Mar 30, 2017 17:42 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Oxford University
The individuals were selected from more than 100 nominations of living Oxonians.(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The ancient University of Oxford is putting up portraits of 25 individuals from ethnic minorities – including those of Indian origin – to showcase an image of diversity and give a new look to its walls that are mostly adorned by portraits of “dead white males”.

Three Indian-origin individuals figure in the list of the university’s current staff and alumni who will sit for portraits: linguist Aditi Lahiri, BBC journalist Rita Chakrabarti and South African human rights activist Kumi Naidoo.

Others include film and television director Ken Loach, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell, award-winning author Jeanette Winterson and historian Lyndal Roper. The idea is to reflect and promote the university’s diversity and its commitment to inclusivity.

The initiative comes against the backdrop of a recent race controversy and the demand to remove the statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes from the university. The statue remained, but this added to criticism that the university does not reflect society and that it admits fewer students from state-funded schools than from fee-paying private schools.

“Portraits – mostly paintings and photographs, some of which have already been completed – will include a mixture of men and women and will feature people with disabilities, people from a variety of ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, and people from LGBTQ+ communities,” the university said on Thursday.

The newly commissioned works will feature in the varsity's central public spaces and will add to Oxford's collection of college and university portraits. The individuals were selected from more than 100 nominations of living Oxonians and their portraits will be shown at an exhibition in Oxford later this year. 

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.” 

Vice-chancellor Louise Richardson said: “There is nothing quite like walking into a room and seeing someone who looks like you honoured in a portrait on the wall. It is so important for all of us to be reminded that achievement and leadership come in all colours, shapes and sizes.”

The full list of 25 individuals: Diran Adebayo (novelist), Norma Aubertin-Potter (librarian), Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell (astrophysicist), Valerie Beral (epidemiologist), Dorothy Bishop (developmental neuropsychologist),  Reeta Chakrabarti (journalist), Penelope Curtis (arts administrator), Patricia Daley (human geographer), Trisha Greenhalgh (primary health care scholar),  Anne-Marie Imafidon (women in science campaigner), Carole Jordan (astrophysicist), Aditi Lahiri (linguistics scholar), Kelsey Leonard (water scholar), Hilary Lister (sailor), Ken Loach (director), Diarmaid MacCulloch (historian), Jan Morris (writer), Kumi Naidoo (human rights activist), Henry Odili Nwume (winter Olympian), Esther Rantzen (broadcaster and charity campaigner), Lyndal Roper (historian), Kathy Sylva (educational psychologist), Marie Tidball (lawyer and disability rights campaigner), Jeanette Winterson (novelist).