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UEA professor in national portrait exhibition

UEA’s Professor of Creative Writing and award-winning author, Professor Tessa McWatt, is featuring in the first photographic exhibition to honour Britain's black female professors.

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors, based in London, highlights the presence and excellence of black female professors in academia, featuring 40 portraits of academics.

Author of six novels and two books for young people, Prof McWatt’s works include the novel ‘Higher Ed’, the novella for young adults ‘There’s No Place Like…’, and the novel ‘Dragons Cry’. She joined UEA’s internationally renowned Creative Writing programme, in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, back in September 2018.

Over the course of her writing career Prof McWatt has collected numerous awards for her work, most recently the 2018 Eccles British Library Writers Award for her critical memoir: Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging.’

Prof McWatt said “I'm honoured to be part of this exhibition, and grateful for the work that Nicola Rollock has done in giving a face and voice to the disparity of representation and inclusion of black women in Higher Education in the UK.

“I hope this exhibition highlights the achievements of these wonderful women, but also that it leads to change and to widening the scope for other black academics to be acknowledged, supported and to contribute to necessary change."

Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors is curated by Dr Nicola Rollock, reader in Equity and Education at Goldsmiths, University of London and the exhibition builds on her 2012 research, which examined the barriers faced, career experiences and strategies of black women working in higher education establishments.

The black and white portraits were taken by photographer Bill Knight OBE, whose work is now in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

Dr Rollock said: “I want Phenomenal Women: Portraits of UK Black Female Professors, to challenge perceptions of what a professor looks like, to highlight the intersectionality of race and gender and to showcase the achievements of this under-represented group of academics. As a relatively invisible and unknown entity, these women stand out in their respective fields.

“The sector is failing black women and needs to be purposeful and explicit in its efforts to retain and promote them.”

There are over 19,000 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, meaning fewer than 1% of UK professors in Britain are black.

The exhibition will be on display to the public in London’s City Hall until Tuesday 31 March. You can find out more about the exhibition by visiting the Phenomenal Women website.