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Find out more about applying for the Rhodes Scholarship

120 years of Rhodes Scholarships seen through the visual arts
Wednesday 28 June, 2023

120 years of Rhodes Scholarships seen through the visual arts

by Ben Russell

Installations by leading artists have been created at Rhodes House to mark the reopening of the House after a major refurbishment and to stimulate thinking and debate during the Rhodes Trusts' 120th Anniversary Reunion celebrations.

The pieces encourage us to reflect on the Rhodes Scholarship, its complex and difficult past, its vibrant present and its future full of hope.

Here we share artists' reflections on their work and the thinking behind pieces displayed at Rhodes House. 

Floating Garden, hanging in Rhodes House

Floating Garden, Valéria Nascimento. In the vaulted main hall at Rhodes House, where Scholars have met for decades, Valéria has suspended thousands of pieces of porcelain representing botanical elements from Rhodes Scholarship constituencies around the world.

Valéria Nascimento is a Brazilian-born contemporary porcelain artist celebrated for her intricate and delicate porcelain sculptures and installations. Nascimento's works often explore the delicate beauty and fragility of nature, drawing inspiration from flora, fauna, and geological formations. She is renowned for her mastery of porcelain techniques. 

Floating Garden has been commissioned for the apse of the main hall in Rhodes House. This area was always intended for a hanging sculpture by the architect, Sir Herbert Baker, but until now, that intention had not been realised. Consisting of over 10,000 handmade pieces of porcelain, hanging on 1000 transparent lines, to give the sensation of ‘floating’, the work has been conceived in dialogue with the Rhodes House Head Gardener, Neil Wigfield. 

Conceived on the one hand to connect the interior architecture to the external garden of Rhodes, House, Floating Garden at its core, is a representation of the diversity of the Rhodes Trust scholarship community through the biodiversity of the geographic regions which form its selection constituencies and their national flowers. A collaborative artwork at its heart, it represents also the collaborative relationship between nations.

"I was honoured to be commissioned to create a permanent large scale installation to mark 120 years of Rhodes Scholarships. Following the progressive vision of the Rhodes Trust to transform the space for its community to gather and connect, I created a piece that reflects on nature as a fundamental uniting force. With my ‘Floating Garden’ I aim to conceive a metaphor that through its botanical and ethereal presence connects people, countries and scholars"


A globe in the World Reimagined trail at Rhodes House

The World Reimagined Globes at Rhodes House

The World Reimagined has created a groundbreaking display of 18 globes in the gardens of Rhodes House. The globes shine an unflinching light on challenging parts of our collective history. You can see the globes in greater detail here, and the exhibition will be open to the public later in the summer.

"The World Reimagined is based on the principle that in order to move forward, we have to honestly face our past and present. And the reality of our past and present is often incredibly difficult.

"The Board of The World Reimagined accepted the invitation from The Rhodes Trust to host an exhibition at Rhodes House after long consideration. We recognise that the name and legacy of Rhodes brings with it pain and a history rooted in extraction and white supremacy.

"Yet it is all of our shared history. It happened. And we must face up to it together in order to create a future for racial justice – and that sometimes means taking this conversation to spaces and places that are historically rooted in racial injustice.  And so we considered the present-day mission and work of The Rhodes Trust and concluded that they have a sincere and deep commitment to facing our past and transforming the future, demonstrated by the steps they have taken so far and those they have committed to.

"Ultimately, if our society is to be able to transform away from white supremacy, the very organisations that have benefited from it must be a part of that transformation.

"We hope The World Reimagined exhibition at Rhodes House offers a meaningful space of public dialogue on the urgent question of how we shine an unflinching light on challenging parts of our history, so that together we make racial justice a reality in a way that honours our ancestors."

Nicola Green's art installation in the Rhodes House convening centre

I Am Because We Are, Nicola Green. A temporary exhibition of covered pillars with framed fabric. Each represents the story of a particular Scholar or Fellow. 

"Nicola Green’s practice focuses on storytelling through portraiture. Nicola combines multiple techniques including painting, pattern making, textile, drawing and gilding. She is an artist and social historian, rooting her work in detailed research using the power of the visual image to tell important stories of our time. Her work over twenty-five years has focused on how we understand our differences, inspired by her mixed heritage children  Her children have black and white South African heritage.

"The Studio of Nicola Green was asked to create an exhibition for the 120th anniversary of the Rhodes Trust. Nicola did not take this decision lightly. The Studio agreed because we believe that in order to move forward we have to acknowledge our past together, participate in uncomfortable conversations, and actively work to dismantle structures of structural racism.

"We have addressed the story of The Rhodes Trust, and the legacy of imperialism and white supremacy, by shining a light on the achievements of Rhodes scholars. We have worked with the scholars to think about how their specific stories intersect with the past and the present of the Rhodes Trust, in order to reimagine our future.

"The Studio of Nicola Green is committed to this process of imperfect and incremental change. We have collaborated with artists and researchers from communities that are under-represented within the creative industries and continue to engage in dialogue, developing a sustainable and intersectional practice."

Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe

Living with the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes, Professor Shadreck Chirikure. This exhibition is a response to the question: “Cecil John Rhodes: Hero, Villain, Ruthless Exploiter or Unjustly Accused? Through the photography of Professor Shadreck Chirikure, the University of Oxford’s Edward Hall Professor of Archaeological Science, Director of the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art and British Academy Global Professor, has been working with The Rhodes Trust's Legacy, Equity and Advisory working groups.

In this exhibition Professor Chirikure reflects through his own photography on some of the conversations he has had with the Rhodes Trust’s Legacy, Equity and Inclusion working groups, and how we think about the turbulent legacy of Cecil Rhodes. This is the first in a series of planned artistic responses to the themes of the Trust’s history and legacy, exploring the impact of extraction in relation to people and nature, and how we might learn from past mistakes, and work towards a decolonised future.

"How can we live with, and amidst, the legacy of Cecil John Rhodes? Should that even be a question? Going to South Africa as a poorly teenager, Mr Rhodes became one of the most influential and richest entrepreneurs on earth.

"His ruthless political ambition and fortune enabled him to expand British imperial interests. Rhodes’ British South Africa Company colonised large parts of southern Africa: Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi).

"The two Rhodesias were named after Mr Rhodes, who was also the Premier of the Cape Colony in South Africa. Wars were fought, lands were appropriated, enterprises were built on worker exploitation, extractive industries paid no attention to environmental issues and Cecil John Rhodes’ wealth substantially increased.

"When Rhodes died, he donated large sums of money to philanthropic causes. The Rhodes Trust was born in 1903 and is based at Rhodes House, Oxford. It has been responsible for the education of many people across the world.

"Initially discriminating against women, the Rhodes Trust later became inclusive. The Rhodes Must Fall movement which began in 2015 at the University of Cape Town raised fundamental legacy issues about the Trust and Mr Rhodes himself.

"How can the Rhodes Trust engage with issues of equity and redress? How can reparative actions benefit southern African communities and the environment? How can legacy issues be mobilised to forge a common, equitable, and just future for all? 

"The photographs in this exhibition challenge us to think about these issues, reflecting on the positive and the negative, forcing us to think about how we can make the world a ‘more just place’?"