Arts & Culture

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors

10:00 am - 5:00 pm | 11 October 2020
Southbank Centre | Free

Did you know, of the 19,000-plus professors at UK universities, just 35 of them are black women. It’s a tough fact to swallow, especially when you think about what this means for the black British women coming up through these institutions and how rarely, if ever, they’ll come across someone in a position of power whose race and gender resembles their own.

Black men are more than twice as likely as their female counterparts to become professors in this country, but even so, fewer than 1% of professors in the UK are black. Here to celebrate those who have climbed the ranks in the field of academia against the odds is a new exhibition: Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors

Featuring a series of portraits shot by photographer Bill Knight, the exhibition aims to highlight the race and gender imbalance within the higher education sector, while championing the achievements of black female scholars. Launching on Saturday 11 October, the free exhibition coincides with Black History Month and can be found outside the Southbank Centre on The Queen’s Walk.

The exhibition has its base in a research paper published by academic Dr. Nicola Rollock in 2019, documenting the career experiences of black female professors and the barriers faced by their juniors as they attempt to work their way up through the higher education system.

The series features the portraits of 45 professors spanning a range of disciplines – from law to medicine and creative writing – all of whom held their role within a UK higher education institution between 2016 and 2019. Among the most notable faces on show are Booker Prize-winning author Bernardine Evaristo, pioneering dentistry teacher Cynthia Pine, and the writer Joan Anim-Addo.

Photo of Bernardine Evaristo (credit: Bill Knight)

Originally mapped out for the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer, the exhibition has since been reimagined for the outdoors to ensure it can go ahead regardless of the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

The portraits have been grafted onto a series of weatherproof structures and will be arranged with social distancing in mind. A bonus to the exhibition’s placement outside the Southbank Centre is that it will inevitably be more prominent, attracting an audience who stumble upon the portraits as well as intentional, in-the-know visitors.

Dr Rollock said: ‘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.’

The exhibition is open all day from 11th October – 8th November 2020.

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