Beautiful portraits of phenomenal women: the UK’s Black female professors

Make your day a little brighter and enjoy these powerful images from the South Bank Centre’s Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors exhibition. 

Did you know that, despite reported efforts to increase overall numbers of academic staff, there are still fewer than 1% of Black professors in the UK?

And it’s Black women specifically who are affected the most. They represent the smallest group when both race and gender are considered together, making them three times less likely to be professors than their white female counterparts and half as likely as Black men. 

Diversity is crucial if we want the UK’s education system to be beneficial for all people, offering different perspectives and experiences is a huge part of learning and expanding mindsets. As is fostering an environment that students from all heritages feel reflected, understood and supported.

To highlight this fact and raise awareness about the systematic setbacks that Black women are forced to face when navigating this, the South Bank Centre has launched a fantastic new exhibition called Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors.

The exhibition showcases 45 brilliant, Black women who have been professors at some point in the last three years – from the 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. 

It has been curated by British academic, writer and activist Dr Nicola Rollock, photographed by Bill Knight and will run from 10 October until 8 November, specifically to coincide with and celebrate Black History Month.

To see the full set of works in person, simply head to the South Bank on a sunny day and stroll the popular public riverside promenade, The Queen’s Walk. Here, you can take your time learning about and appreciating the compelling images of these brilliant women, for free.

Originally the organisers planned for the exhibition to take place inside, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, they had to re-think a way of giving these photos the visibility they deserve. With a ‘glass half full’ attitude, Rollock says that this move actually means more people will see it, which is only a good thing.

For a sneak peek at the artwork, scroll down to find a selection of portraits of incredibly talented women.

  • Gloria Agyemang

    Gloria Agyemang has worked in both the UK and Africa, gathering several years teaching and managing experience.

    Currently, she is a professor of accounting at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

  • Dorothy Monekosso

    Dorothy Monekosso began her career in space technology research, working on the computer systems used for small satellites and spacecraft.

    Currently, she is a professor of computer science at Leeds Beckett University.

  • Florence Ayisi

    Florence Ayisi is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who specialises in showing female-centred perspectives from women in Africa, giving them a voice and agency. 

    Her first feature documentary film Sisters in Law was also long-listed for an Academy Award nomination (Oscars) in 2006. Now, she a professor of international documentary film at the University of South Wales.

  • Diamond Ashiagbor

    Diamond Ashiagbor teaches as a professor of law at the University of Kent and is senior associate research fellow at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London.

    She also just published her new book, Re-Imagining Labour Law for Development with Hart Publishing.

  • Bernadine Evaristo

    Bernadine Evaristo is a professor of creative writing at Brunel University London, but you’ll probably recognise her thanks to her award-winning author status.

    She most recently was honoured with the 2019 Booker Prize for her incredible book, Girl, Woman, Other, but has also authored seven other books as well as achieving the #1 Sunday Times bestseller spot and has been awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2020.

  • Tracey Reynolds

    Tracey Reynolds is a research professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Greenwich. 

    She has impressively authored over 60 publications in the form of books, articles, policy reports and working papers. In 2007 Tracey was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Research Excellence Award in recognition of her research leadership and enterprise within her specialist field, and in August 2013 named a ‘Sociology Super Author’ by Taylor and Francis Routledge Press.

  • Adele Jones

    Adele Jones is a professor of social work in the Department of Behavioural and Social Sciences at the University of Huddersfield. 

    Her areas of expertise include sexual and intimate partner violence and child abuse.

The Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors will run until 8 November, hosted by the South Bank Centre on The Queen’s Walk. 

Images: Bill Knight

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