Alternative Extended Activity for Using Identity Themes to Interpret Artworks

About Themes

Divide your class into eight groups, assigning two groups to each of the sculptures. If your students have access to an Internet connected computer, they can view the artworks and access information about each artwork directly on the computer. In place of computer access, you can provide each group with the following printouts:

  • a printout of one or several views of their assigned sculpture

  • five packets of additional information:
    • Information about the Artwork
    • Information about the Art Maker
    • Contextual Information
    • Viewpoints for Interpretation
    • Connections among Artworks

    Ask each group to carefully examine their artwork looking for interesting details to point out to others in their group.

    Explain to students that broad themes are general ideas that we can use to help us consider the meaning or importance of an artwork. Write the following four broad identity themes on the board or on an overhead:
    A. We define ourselves through the roles we play.
    B. We define ourselves through cultural traditions.
    C. We define ourselves through our beliefs about life and death.
    D. We define ourselves through the people we love.

    Ask each of the eight groups (two for each sculpture) to select the two identity themes that they believe are most helpful in understanding their assigned sculpture. Next help groups select just one theme as their focus. If both groups examining the same artwork select the same theme, ask one group to use their second theme as their focus for interpretation.
    Explain that the challenge to each group is to use their theme to help explain what the sculpture is about. They should begin by reading the basic information about the artwork (title, artist, size, medium) and looking very carefully for details in the sculpture which relate to their theme. Next students in each group should share the responsibility of using their information packets as sources for additional information. One or two students should read through each information packet seeking information which supports the theme upon which they are focusing.

    Ask each group to prepare to share their interpretation of their sculpture with the entire class. Write the following instructions on the board, overhead, or distribute an instructional handout to each group:

  • What is the name of your artwork?

  • Who made it? When?

  • What broad identity theme are you using to help you interpret the artwork?

  • What can you see in the artwork that makes you think that it expresses your broad identity theme in some way?

  • What other information have you found to support your theme?

  • What other themes are important to understanding your artwork? Explain.

  • How will you share your understanding with the class?

  • Who will tell the class important basic information about the artwork?

  • Who will point to visual evidence in the artwork which supports the theme?

  • Who will share other information about the artwork that supports the theme?

  • Who will display the artwork to the class pointing to important features as his/her fellow group members share ideas?

Explain that broad themes can apply to many different artworks and that different people can interpret the same artwork differently. Note that all four of the sculptures can be seen as expressions of identity. Review the theme introduction and remind students that we develop our sense of identity from many sources, including from our cultures, our roles in life, and our personal beliefs and experience. If groups have not already dome so, focus their attention on 1) each sculptor's personal background (see the "Information about the Art Maker" section as well as the Maker's Intention subsection of the "Viewpoints for Interpretation" section posted with each artwork) and 2) the sculptor's culture (see the "Cultural Context" and "Cultural Understanding" subsections of the "Contextual Information" and "Viewpoints for Interpretation" sections respectively posted with each artwork).

Our Identities as Girls and Boys, Women and Men

About Identity


If you judge the issue of gender to be appropriate to discuss with your students, artworks can provide many alternatives for consideration.
Many (perhaps most) identities are appropriate for both men and women. Compare the following sets of images:


Often identities commonly associated with one gender are shared by the other gender:

  • Judith Baca presents women as Olympic athletes.

  • César Martínez presents a fashionably dressed young man "striking a pose."

  • Often traditional gender identities are accepted and maintained:
    Carmen Lomas Garza represents a woman in a traditional mother's role.

  • Luis Guerra represents a man in the role of a muscular physical laborer.

  • The same gender can be represented in contrasting roles:
    Luis Jiménez show a powerless, passive (in this case dead) woman.

  • Yolanda López represents a strong, energetic woman striding toward her future.

Our identity as males and females transform and evolve through time and in different situations just as other aspects of our identity change.

© 2001 Hispanic Research Center, Arizona State University. All Rights Reserved.