'Making Space' at UoB | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

‘Making Space’ at UoB

Olivia Boyce shares her thoughts on UoB's new project, in conjunction with International Women's day, celebrating the vital role of women in academia throughout the university's history

Wednesday the 8th of March marked International Women's Day, a day that celebrates women of the past and present across the globe, highlighting their achievements and presence in all fields and walks of life. It also marked the beginning of a special project, curated to celebrate the incredible achievements of female staff, students and alumni, culminating in an exhibition housed on the University of Birmingham campus.

artist and anthropologist Liz Hingley created and captured a series of portraits of women past and present from the University

The 'Making Space' project has already been making something of an impression on campus for a few weeks, though specific detail surrounding the project was not formally announced until just before the launch. The University commissioned artist and anthropologist Liz Hingley, an honorary research fellow of the University of Birmingham Philosophy and Theology department, to create and capture a series of portraits of women past and present from the University, as well as exploring how women are presented through and in interaction with objects, as part of an examination of wider material culture. These images have then been presented around campus via screens across various venues, as well as on social media, under the hashtag #uobmakingspace. Many of the portraits Hingley created are now on display in the Aston Webb Rotunda Gallery, where they will remain until the 21st of July.

Clare Mullett, University Curator and Head of Research and Cultural Collections at the University of Birmingham, reveals one reason for the exhibition. 'Following traditions established by the oldest academic bodies, the University of Birmingham has immortalised its key protagonists since its foundation in 1900. These portraits, adorning public spaces, depict predominately male figureheads and academics. ‘Making Space’ is an exhibition that aims to place depictions of inspirational women at the very centre of the UK’s first civic University and create a lasting legacy for the future.'

Amongst the diverse group of women who feature in the exhibition are Olympic medallists,  the first female magistrate, and academics currently teaching at UoB. One of those whose portrait is being exhibited is Dr Ruth Gilligan, an author and journalist who also lectures within the Departments of English Literature, Film and Creative Writing at UoB. Describing the experience as 'doing an amazing job in generating conversations between women from across disciplines, departments and career-stages', Dr Gilligan is full of praise for the initiative, stressing its usefullness in creating a dialogue for those involved around many of the challenges often still faced by women in an academic setting. 'When I arrived for my photoshoot/interview, I found myself in a room full of strong, inspirational academic women, all sharing stories about their experiences and the various ways in which they had struggled to make their voices heard (but crucially how, in most cases, they had triumphed despite many barriers along the way).'

In an ingenious use of an icon of the UoB campus, Old Joe was utilised on the evening of the exhibition launch

In an ingenious use of an icon of the UoB campus, Old Joe was utilised on the evening of the exhibition launch, with projections of several of the portraits onto one of the sides, including that of Dr Gilligan. Though unable to attend the exhibition launch, Dr Gilligan comments 'I enjoyed being sent photos of all the amazing participants' images being projected across campus. What a sight to see! If there any risk of women being overlooked or ignored at UoB, those images certainly made it impossible!'.

the university sets out its intention to open a dialogue around, and raise awareness of, the vital role of women in academia

The exhibition, in addition to celebrating International Women's Day, forms part of a wider move within the University to fufill one particular equality objective - to “increase the proportion of women in senior posts”, reflecting a similar move that seems to be underway  across the wider field of academia. It also aims to serves as a platform for the women of today, allowing those of the past and present to guide those of the present and future, acknowledging the role of women as crucial within the university environment.

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir David Eastwood, acknowledges this aim, saying 'We are hugely proud of the enormous contribution that women have made to the University and beyond, and this exhibition will help to showcase the research and innovation of female staff, students, and alumni, which has broken new ground, pushed forward the boundaries of knowledge, and had an enduring impact on people’s lives.'

With this exhibition, the university sets out its intention to open a dialogue around, and raise awareness of, the vital role of women in academia - and the scope of this project suggests it is a dialogue it wishes to endure for a long time to come. Perhaps Dr Gilligan puts it best - that we can 'only hope the conversations that were started continue long after the projector has been switched off...'

For more information, follow this link: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/strategic-framework/Resources/making-space.aspx

Third year English Literature student. Print Editor for Redbrick Culture. Appreciator of all things literary or stagey. Often found singing musical theatre tunes when I think no-one is watching. (@liv_boyce)


16th March 2017 at 2:59 pm

Images from

Elliot Brown