21 May 2020


xa at home

The Ashmolean and The Oxford Times announce a new art competition for members of the public, to mark the history of the coronavirus.  People are invited to demonstrate their creativity in artistic responses to a situation which has affected everyone and every aspect of our lives this year.   Selected entries will be printed weekly in The Oxford Times.  Shortlisted works of art will be displayed on the Ashmolean’s website; and the runners-up and winners in each category will be shown at a special exhibition on the Museum’s forecourt when the Ashmolean reopens, commemorating the world-changing events of 2020.

The Artists in Residence competition aims to draw out and document what people are thinking, feeling and making at this unprecedented time.  Responses might reflect on the experience of lockdown and being at home; things that people miss or look forward to when life resumes; or sources of inspiration and hope during the difficult circumstances that we are all facing.

Entries are invited from UK-based participants and will be judged in the following age categories:
Under 11
18 and over

Entrants can submit any type of visual artwork including:
Painting, drawing, printmaking
Computer aided design
Decorative arts
Performance and film

Competition Judging Panel:
Tim Hughes, Features Editor, The Oxford Times
Dr Kamal Mahtani, GP and Associate Professor, Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, Oxford University
Dr Janina Ramirez, cultural historian, broadcaster and Course Director at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education
Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean
Additional judges to be announced

Xa Sturgis says: ‘It is a particular sadness that when we’re most in need of the things museums offer us, they have been forced to close.  Although the Ashmolean’s collections are safer than ever - unthreatened by passing rucksacks, joyful toddlers and daylight - the Museum desperately misses its visitors.  The great excitement of museums is not, after all, in the stuff they look after but in the encounters between that stuff and people.  What is the point of Alfred’s Jewel or Uccello’s Hunt in the Forest without anyone to stand in front of them and marvel?

‘Over the past few weeks the public has shown extraordinary resourcefulness, generosity and imagination in the face of the greatest challenge we’ve faced in a generation.  In response to this, when the Ashmolean reopens, we will be celebrating the collective creativity of the visitors and communities who give the Museum its purpose.’

Tim Hughes says: 'For some of us the lockdown and has allowed space to develop new skills or nurture talents, all of which can be put to great use in creating an artistic response to the pandemic. There can be no greater prize than seeing your creation at the Ashmolean – the world’s oldest public museum, a repository of artistic genius, and a beacon of human endeavour. The people of Oxfordshire are, I know, more than up to the challenge.'

Dr Kamal Mahtani says: ‘It’s widely recognised that our health and mental wellbeing is influenced by many non-clinical factors like our social, economic and environmental wellbeing. Something that is increasingly being captured through NHS social prescribing.

‘Coronavirus and the lockdown present particular challenges to this. However, although we can’t access them in person at the moment, cultural sectors such as museums are still providing resources for engagement, reflection and inspiration.  Clinicians know that in crises such as this one, taking a more holistic approach to people’s wellbeing will be critical. The Artists in Residence competition is exactly the sort of innovation we should be encouraging at this time.  I cannot wait to see the works of art which people create in response.’

Dr Janina Ramirez says: ‘Being an art historian I've always been struck by how moments of greatest change, drama or destruction tend to bring about the most fascinating transformations in art. The coronavirus outbreak and the global response is unlike anything that has happened before, and artists, writer, musicians, actors will find new modes of expression to create art that reflects this time. Because art is the way humans scratch their existence onto time and record unique, yet shared, stories.

‘This competition will document these differing experiences, from being locked in a house for two months entertaining young children, to battling through the virus in hospital. The Ashmolean will be the treasure chest, bringing these works together so future generations can know what we went through. I'm delighted to be a part of this. It will be hard to choose winners, but I'm looking for art that provides a moving record - that speaks of personal experience, yet manages to communicate with everyone. We are all carving our names into history at the moment and this is a chance to be part of something lasting.'



Claire Parris, Press Officer, Ashmolean Museum | 07833 384 512


Submit a photo of your entry using our online form at



Tim Huges  is Features Editor and Audience Content Editor for The Oxford Times and Oxford Mail. He is an award-winning journalist who began his career writing for newspapers in his then home of Sarawak, Borneo. His work has taken him from Abingdon to Afghanistan, Cowley to Kathmandu, but he is happiest reporting on the rich cultural and arts scene of Oxford - and on how we are finding interesting and creative ways to survive the lockdown.

Dr Kamal Mahtani BSc PhD MBBS PGDip FRCGP has been a GP in Oxfordshire for over 10 years. He is also an Associate Professor and Co-Director of Oxford University's Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, based at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.  His research includes improving patient-centred chronic disease management and redesigning primary care services.  He leads a programme of research on ‘social prescribing’, which is now a core part of NHS policy. Social prescribing recognises that our health and wellbeing are influenced by a variety of factors and seeks to link people, for example those that feel socially isolated, with community based “assets” or services.

Dr Janina Ramirez is a renowned cultural historian, writer and broadcaster.  She is the author of acclaimed histories, The Private Lives of the Saints (2015) and Julian of Norwich (2016) and has published two children’s books in her Viking Mystery series.   Her PhD was on the art, literature and culture of Anglo-Saxon England.  She has lectured at the universities of York, Warwick and Oxford.  She has presented programmes for the BBC on the Treasures of Anglo-Saxon England; The Viking Sagas; and the Hundred Years War.  She is the Course Director of undergraduate History of Art at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education.

Dr Xa Sturgis has been the Director of the Ashmolean since 2014.  He was Director of the Holburne Museum, Bath 2005-2014; and worked at the National Gallery, London, from 1999-2005.  At the Ashmolean he has overseen important acquisitions including the Watlington Hoard and The High Street, Oxford by William Turner.  And he has curated major exhibitions including America’s Cool Modernism (2018), Jeff Koons at the Ashmolean (2019), and Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft (2019).  He is a member of the Magic Circle and in his spare time he is an amateur magician performing under the name, The Great Xa.


The Ashmolean is temporarily closed in line with government policy on coronavirus.  Our reopening date will be published as soon as possible at


Banner image:
Detail of A November Rainbow, Dolwyddelan Valley, November 11, 1866, 1 p.m
Watercolour by Alfred William Hunt (1830–1896)

Inset image:
Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean (at home)