Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors, a celebration of Black British academics will be brought to the public in a unique free outdoor exhibition.
Commissioned and curated by Dr Nicola Rollock, and photographed by Bill Knight, it features portraits of 45 professors across a broad range of subjects including law, medicine, creative writing and sociology. The exhibition runs from 10 October – 8 November 2020, timed to coincide with Black History Month, and is presented along the Southbank Centre’s very popular public riverside promenade The Queen’s Walk.
The coronavirus pandemic forced a rethinking of the exhibition which was due to open at the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer at the Southbank Centre. It will now have a much more prominent public platform giving many more people the opportunity to ‘stumble’ across these portraits and to learn about the racial inequality within British academia.
“I am thrilled to be working with the Southbank Centre on this exhibition. As one of London’s leading arts’ venues, it is a fitting space in which to help draw attention to just how few Black female professors there are in the UK and to highlight their achievements.” Dr Rollock
Amongst the 45 women being celebrated in the first-ever public exhibition to honour Britain’s Black female professors are award-winning author Bernadine Evaristo, poet and playwright Joan Anim-Addo and the first woman ever to be appointed head of a UK dental school, Cynthia Pine.
The exhibition results from the work of Dr Rollock who undertook academic research examining the career experiences and strategies of Black female professors at UK universities over the past three years. The portraits were taken by photographer Bill Knight, who travelled across England, Scotland and Wales to capture the images.
Dr Rollock’s 2019 research showed the barriers faced by Black women as they worked to navigate their way through higher education and the strategies they used to help them reach professorship.
Fewer than 1% of professors in the UK are Black despite increases in overall levels of academic staff.
“It is an honour for the Southbank Centre to be presenting this important exhibition in our public spaces on the beautiful setting next to the River Thames. Due to COVID-19, we have had to move this exhibition from our indoor spaces, to an outside setting. This means that thousands more people will see the project than might have originally. Access to education and culture is everybody’s right, and the need for culture and education to reflect the society we live in is also a subject that still needs to be fully addressed. This project goes some way into shining a light on these ever more urgent issues.” Cedar Lewisohn, Site Curator
Black women represent the smallest group when both race and gender are considered together. They are three times less likely to be professors than their white female counterparts and half as likely as Black men.
There are 19,285* professors in UK universities in total according to a 2019 report by AdvanceHE. 12,795 are White males, 4,560 are White women. There are 90 Black men and 35 Black women.
These stunning portraits and the respective professors’ biographies are now being presented outdoors, in a series of weatherproof structures that are specially designed with social distancing guidelines in mind.
Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors, aims to highlight the presence and excellence of all the women included and provide a platform for debate about what it takes to reach this highest level of academic scholarship. The 45 women have all been professors at some point over the past three years.
The exhibition is sponsored by Paul Hastings, UCU, Pearn Kandola, Wellcome Trust and Baker McKenzie and supported by Runnymede and the Mayor for London.