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Would you like to have your portrait painted?

11 April 2017

Emma Teeling, MRIA writes about the Women on Walls campaign in our Annual Review 2015-16.

Imaging sitting in your office on a normal day, working on a research paper, as I was, when the phone rings and someone on the other line says:

– We were wondering if you would like to have your portrait painted?

– Sorry, what did you say?

– We were wondering if you would like to have your portrait painted?

– My what?

– Your portrait.

…and so forth.

Eventually I began to understand what the caller was asking of me. I was being invited to have my portrait painted, along with seven other female scientists working in Irish universities, all of whom were awarded European Research Grants between 2012 and 2015.This painting would hang in the main hall at the Royal Irish Academy, the first time a portrait of its kind would appear on the walls of Academy House. The rationale for such a wild idea (if I’m allowed to say so!) was to address and correct the gender imbalance apparent on the walls of many prestigious institutes, whereby the majority of paintings celebrating their members and founders are of men.

I was intrigued by the idea but I was apprehensive, given the length of time it would take to pose and the fact that an artist and potentially others would physically study me. However, I was struck by the power of this campaign to change minds and felt honoured to be invited to be part of it, and so I agreed. After the phone call, I started to become more conscious of the lack of female portraits in public buildings everywhere. Where are our female role models? Where were the women leaders who came before us, where are the great women working in Ireland today?

Women on Walls is an exciting movement to make female leaders in Ireland visible. When people visit the Royal Irish Academy now, they will see portraits of women, which will help to re-programme any unconscious gender bias they may have. With campaigns such as this, if young people are asked to envision what a professor might look like, instead of thinking of a white bearded man in a lab coat, they can instead envision a woman equally as impassioned and just as capable. This is a message that we want our young future researchers, both male and female, to believe in to achieve our full societal potential.

So how did I find the experience? The posing wasn’t too bad; having an artist observe me for hours was certainly new to me. However, if a painting of me or other individuals like me can change our world, then that has to be a great thing.

Women on Walls is a campaign by Accenture to make women leaders visible in Ireland. Find out more about the project and those involved here.

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