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ID number:  BIRRC-L0121
Institution:  Research and Cultural Collections
Named collection:  University Loans Collection
Artist / Maker:  Rowan, David
Title / Object name:  Jean's Girls
Object type:  Photographic Print
Date made:  2015
Materials:  Paper, Photographic Print

Framed C-Type Photographic Print, photographic triangular group portrait of Jean Wilks and students from King Edward VI High School for Girls, overlaid with the colours of the suffragette flag in pink, white and green. Formed part of Phantom Walls Exhibition.16 October 2015 - 17 January 2016.

Notes:  Before being appointed as the University of Birmingham’s first female Pro-Chancellor in 1985, Jean Wilks was a distinguished headmistress of King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham. Wilks was considered one of the greatest educators of her time, and believed that girls from any background had the right to a first class education. This piece takes inspiration and uses archival material from King Edward VI High School for Girls to depict many of the girls that Wilks would have influenced during her tenure. The triangular group portrait, with Wilks at its centre, is overlaid with the colours of the suffragette flag.

Created in response to Portrait of Professor Jean R. F. Wilks by Norman Hepple (1908-1994) Oil on canvas, 1987.

This work forms part of the Phantom Walls series. Phantom Walls was commissioned in 2015 when a series of Vice Chancellor’s portraits from the Great Hall and Aston Webb corridor were temporarily removed from display for an exhibition, Terms of Engagement, at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Filling the temporarily vacated spaces, artist David Rowan created a series of works inspired by the absent paintings.

Phantom Walls is the title of a book written in 1929 by Sir Oliver Lodge, who was the University’s first Principal. His book explored the possibility of an afterlife, that of an alternative reality beyond death. Rowan takes this as his starting point. His alternative portraits use photography, video and sculpture to create phantom versions of the originals. In some, he brings to life the personal iconography and relationships of the sitters. In others their legacy and wider social impact is explored. Some pieces endow inanimate objects with the focus usually reserved for the human subject. All provide a fascinating alternative perspective on these key contributors to the University’s history.

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