Renewed wall of fame: less Harry Potter, more diorama

Digital screens are an (inter)national example.

Rector Carolien Kroeze opened the renewed portrait gallery in Omnia on Tuesday evening. Three digital screens that have been placed among the painted portraits display video portraits of today’s WUR community.

Artist Giacomo Sardonini and cinematographer Ben Excell filmed everyday life and work on the campus in the past few months, resulting in some seventy short video fragments. These clips are displayed between the portraits of former rectors as of Tuesday evening. ‘I feel the final result really matched the existing gallery’, the artist says, eyeing his work with satisfaction.

Sardonini and Excell started their work after the gallery, which exclusively portrayed men, met with criticism towards the end of 2022. A task force made up of employees, students and artists pondered how the historical tradition of displaying portraits of former rectors could be updated to suit modern times. Sardonini’s concept, which is best described as a Harry Potter-style gallery, was selected.


The result is a video loop of some seventeen minutes that is repeated on three separate screens. ‘Each screen starts its loop at a different section of the video, ensuring you will never see the same fragment on multiple screens at any given time’, Excell explains.

We filmed ordinary moments, such as a yawning student at the back of a lecture hall and a colleague struggling to get the printer to work

Ben Excell, videographer

‘It is not glamourous, but it has become a lively video’, says gender historian Margreet van der Burg, one of the members of the project’s task force. ‘It is like a diorama: all sorts of people are shown while they go about their business, with all their diversity, alone or with others. This allows you to literally sneak peek at the diversity and goings-on of everyone on the campus. There are people engaged in manual labour and those who sit and ponder in silence.’

‘We filmed ordinary moments, such as a yawning student at the back of a lecture hall and a colleague struggling to get the printer to work’, Excell says. ‘Although we filmed just a small number of people on the campus, the images will resonate with many.’ Van der Burg agrees: ‘This wall includes everyone. Because of its dynamic concept, the video can be altered or expanded in time.’


Omnia Manager Chris van Kreij is happy with the new wall. ‘The portraits would sometimes give rise to discussions when I showed new partners around. I believe this renovation is a great solution and one that I can explain to our partners.’

The portraits would sometimes give rise to discussions. This a concept I can explain to visitors

Chris van Kreij, Omnia manager

According to Van Kreij, one other Dutch university has already expressed an interest in seeing the walk. ‘Almost every other university struggles with a similar issue: a series of paintings portraying only white men. I hope our solution may inspire others.’ Van der Burg will discuss the portrait gallery’s renovation at a congress in the United States soon.

Excell: ‘What started with two creative souls wandering around the campus and walking in wherever they felt like, sometimes literally lying on the floor to shoot footage, could potentially have a global impact.’

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