Diversifying public sculpture - find out how to get involved

Keep an eye out for two new faces in Broad Street

Two new heads, representations of women from different ethnic backgrounds, have been temporarily mounted on plinths outside the History of Science Museum. This installation aims to open up a dialogue on how public sculpture can be diversified now – and in the future – to better represent the modern Oxford community.

The success of the recent Diversifying Portraiture at Oxford project led to the idea of looking at how the same principles could apply to the artistic work in Oxford’s public spaces. The project is funded through the University’s Diversity Fund.

Not much is known about the 13 sculpted heads that have lined Broad Street for 350 years. The current heads, thought to represent ancient philosophers or emperors, are the third set to have occupied the space. Despite their historical and cultural value, the first two sets of heads were never fully recorded and their whereabouts remained largely unknown for many years.

Work by the University’s School of Geography and the Environment recovered most of the first and second set of heads in 2017, which are on display in the Weston Library’s exhibit Oxford’s Stone Heads: History and Mysteries until 21 July 2019. 

In addition to the two new female heads, an interactive art installation is opening outside the History of Science Museum. Being installed from 18–21 June, the exhibit will feature a large pink face which visitors can walk under to hear the ‘voices’ of the busts on the railings.

Want to get involved?

Members of the University and the local community are invited to give their responses to the question ‘How can we diversify public sculpture to better represent the people in today’s University of Oxford?’. Written responses can be posted in the plinths under the temporary busts in front of the History of Science Museum. Ideas can also be put forward on Twitter using the hashtag #DiversifyingPublicSculpture.

For those who prefer to express their ideas in a more visual format, the museum is hosting a free clay modelling workshop on 22 June. Open to all, visitors are invited to sculpt their own version of a head – or something completely different – which would add diversity to the ancient stone heads. The workshop will include tips on clay modelling and inspiration will be provided by the work of contemporary artists. The workshop sculptures will then be exhibited inside the museum while the temporary heads are on display outside, as part of the conversation about what is possible for the future of Oxford. 

Visit the History of Science Museum website to find out more