University of Groningen: First of Groningen’s academic murals unveiled

As of today, a metres-high mural of Aletta Jacobs is adorning a wall in Groningen. The painting, created by the artist duo VAAF, was officially unveiled by Rector Magnificus Cisca Wijmenga. The unveiling follows on from the end of Aletta Year, a year in which the UG focused positive attention on the theme ‘women in academia’.

The work of art on one of the walls of Broerstraat opposite the Academy Building is the first in a series of at least five murals featuring prominent UG academics. The idea for the series of academic murals was first ventured by former municipal councillor Gerben Brandsema. Commissioned by the University of Groningen, Kunstpunt Groningen, the University Museum, and the Municipality of Groningen, the idea has now become reality.

A feisty composition
The work of art was designed and painted by Jonna Bo Lammers and Lotte Masker, who form the artist duo VAAF. They were tasked with telling the story of Aletta Jacobs and the impact she had. ‘We didn’t just want to paint her portrait with some kind of inspirational caption’ explains Lammers. ‘We wanted to tell her story, tell everyone exactly why Aletta Jacobs is such a cool woman.’ So the painting portrays a number of important aspects of her life and work. The signature that Jacobs used to enrol at the University, and a pen, are shown at the top. Below this, they have painted a female torso, an illustration that appeared on the front cover of book written by Jacobs. ‘When the book was published, the illustration was modified so that the female organs were covered by a skirt. We left this bit out,’ explains Masker.

Ugly girls
Jacobs herself is portrayed twice: once as the first and only female doctor, surrounded by men. But she is also shown as a younger woman, wearing a T-shirt with the text ‘studying is for ugly girls’ with a quote underneath from a letter written about Jacobs. ‘At the time, it was said that only ugly women spent their time on emancipation and studying,’ says Lammers. ‘Women are still judged by their appearance, which is why we looked for a contemporary way to include this text in the mural.’

Historical importance
It is not a coincidence that Aletta Jacobs was chosen as the subject for the first mural. ‘We are pleased that this overlaps the 150th anniversary celebrations for Aletta Jacobs,’ explains Arjen Dijkstra, director of the University Museum. ‘It’s important for the UG to highlight this particular period of history: admitting women to university was one of the most important developments in academia in centuries, and the UG played a leading role.’

The University art committee is currently thinking about the other murals. One of the plans has already been announced: J.C. Kapteyn, astronomer and first ever Professor of Astronomy at the UG, will be allocated a spot on Oude Kijk in ’t Jatstraat to mark the 100th anniversary of his death.

The mural of Aletta Jacobs was financed by the UG, the Dutch Science Agenda, Kunstpunt Groningen, and the Municipality of Groningen.