LESSON

Art and Racial Justice: What is in a Self-Portrait?

In this lesson, students will look at a few self-portraits of people of color and think about the role of art in struggles for racial justice. Then students will consider what they might want to show about themselves or their various identity groups through a self-portrait.
Grade Level

Objectives

Students will:

  • become familiar with a diversity of artists who have done self-portraits, representations of themselves.
  • analyze the different messages that can be conveyed through a self-portrait.
  • look closely at ourselves and consider the aspects of our identity we can show through a self-portrait.
Essential Questions
  • In what ways is a self-portrait different from a portrait of someone else? What can a self-portrait show about someone or the person’s sense of group identity?
  • How have self-portraits played a role in struggles for racial justice and visibility throughout history?
  • In what way is a self-portrait artist an activist/community leader?

This lesson is part of the series Art and Activism.

 

Overview

Just as portraits give us a window into how artists see their subjects and what messages they might be trying to send about a person or group of people, a self-portrait tells us a great deal about artists’ self-concept, including how they see themselves in relation to society. Our self-image is important to our identities as activists! In this lesson, students will look at a few self-portraits of people of color and think about the role of art in struggles for racial justice. Then students will consider how they see themselves and what they might want to show about themselves or their various identity groups through a self-portrait.

 

Activities

  1. Explain to students that just as a portrait is a picture of a person, self-portraits are pictures that artists do of themselves. Artists often use self-portraits to show how they feel about themselves in relation to society. Show students the following images of self-portraits (K-2, 3-5) by well-known artists, all of whom are also people of color. Ask students to think about which details in the portrait stand out to them and what ideas the artist might have been trying to get across in their work.
  2. Ask students to work independently to make lists of things they would like to show about themselves through self-portraits. These might be individual characteristics, or they might be stereotype-fighting features with regard to a particular identity group they feel that they belong to. Give students the chance to share their lists with friends and talk about how they might use a self-portrait to show these messages or ideas.

 

For the rest of the period, give each student paper, a small mirror (Note: Groups of students can also share a mirror if you do not have access to many of them), and colored pencils, paints or the art supplies of your choice. Allow them to work on self-portraits that show themselves, including aspects of themselves that are important for them to communicate. Give students time to share their work at the end of the period, even if it is a work in progress. Make sure to find time for students to complete these activist self-portraits, and display them in your classroom or school.