Women to be given a spot in the university’s stately Senate Hall
From Jos Schrijnen to Theo Engelen; every former rector – all of whom are male – has had their portrait hung in Radboud University’s Senate Hall. But the room is set to receive a makeover: artist Lara Schnitger will be giving the women of the university their own unique place on the walls.
One or two years ago, Margot van Mulken – at the time dean for the Faculty of Arts – taught a course in the university’s auditorium. The participants were not just Nijmegen university employees, but also ‘externals’. With some embarrassment, Van Mulken welcomed them into the stately Senate Hall.
Dozens of posh gentlemen
Her reason for discomfort? Dozens of posh gentlemen – the former rectors of Radboud University – looked out into the room from their portraits on the walls. To be fair, in 2016 a photo of all the university’s female professors was placed underneath the portraits, but according to Van Mulkens, the photo is somewhat embarrassing. It accentuates rather than counteracts the male dominance in the room.
‘Because of all these external people, I looked at the room from an outsider’s perspective’, Van Mulkens says. ‘That did make all those men stand out like a sore thumb. It may be the history of the university, but it felt somewhat awkward. We want to project an image that says “anyone could have a place on this wall”, but right now that is not the case.’
Van Mulkens – along with her beta faculty colleague Lutgarde Buydens – brought her concerns before the Executive Board. The Board proved to be receptive to the two female deans’ objections.
After several talks with the university’s art committee, registrar Nico Bouwman and historian Jan Brabers, the executive board decided to task Dutch-US artist Lara Schnitger with giving the Hall a makeover.
Schnitger has been occupied with this assignment for the past year. The new Senate Hall will be unveiled on October 18th, one day after the university’s centenary and the inauguration of the new rector.
‘We shouldn’t pretend that women have been in charge for the past hundred years’
The artwork, to be called Alma Mater Carolina, consists of linen sheets, which depict templated portraits of female professors emeriti. The artistic renditions are to be placed in between the traditional rectors’ portraits, in chronological order. It is not yet known which female professors will be depicted; the faculties could each suggest candidates.
The Senate Hall’s transformation is a major improvement, according to Margot van Mulken. ‘We’re not erasing the university’s history. We shouldn’t pretend that women have been in charge for the past hundred years. However, they did play an important role.’
However, the former dean is also aware that the new artwork is still not sufficient when it comes to fully showcasing diversity. ‘The artwork focuses on the ratio of men to women, but of course, diversity is so much more than that. There are no doormen, assistant professors, or students on the wall. Not only that, the faces on the wall are all pretty white – which is why it’s a good thing that there are still plenty of empty spaces.’
The open spaces in the artwork are a very conscious choice. These spaces are needed to provide future rectors with a spot on the wall. But according to Mulkens, there is some inherent symbolism in this too. ‘With that empty space, the artwork states: we’re not done. We’re not there yet.’
The Senate Hall will be open from October 19th through October 27th for visitors who would like to see the artwork; this can be done on weekdays from 9:00 to 17:00.
Translated by Jasper Pesch