Art theme: identity

Artists think carefully about how to express identity when constructing an image of a person, whether creating images of themselves or someone else. It's important to consider how to convey someone's personality and qualities, interests and beliefs in an artwork. How can an artist show the things that are important to that person? How can they help viewers gain a sense of their experiences, culture and background? 

Artists give viewers an insight into a person's unique identity in all manner of ways. For instance, in figurative art, artists may make use of features such as clothing, hairstyle and accessories, as well as facial expressions, gestures and pose. The objects and background they portray their subject with can also help to cast light on a person's identity.

Contextual background for teachers

Lesmahagow Durbar (2000)
The Singh Twins 

Medium: poster paint, gouache and gold dust on mountboard
Dimensions: H 32.5 x W 25.5 cm

The Singh Twins' work draws heavily on the tradition of Indian miniature painting. The small scale, bright colours and meticulous attention to detail seen here are just a few of the characteristics of this tradition that the artists bring to their contemporary art practice. The artists even include themselves in this painting, just as Indian miniature painters sometimes featured in their own works. Can you spot them, one sister holding a paintbrush, the other clutching a camera?

Lesmahagow Durbar is the final work in The Singh Twins' series, The Iqbalnama: a set of paintings celebrating the life of Sardar Iqbal Singh, a Sikh man from Lahore, India, who made Scotland his home and embraced Scottish culture as his own. In this painting, at home in Lesmahagow, Scotland, Baron Singh hosts a party – or durbar, a court or gathering commonly depicted in traditional Indian miniature painting. The Baron himself can be seen in the bottom left of the painting, inviting a guest to plant a tree in his grounds.

In this joyful scene celebrating Scotland's multicultural heritage, how do the guests at this party express the different aspects of their cultural identity?

Look, describe and discuss

Open a full-screen version of the zoomable image in a new window.

Ask your students to describe the artwork, encouraging them to simply say what they can see.

You can start by showing the whole image, and then use the zoom feature to explore details of the painting. Or you might like to start by using the zoom feature to show a detail from the image, and then zoom out to see more.

Encourage your students to look carefully – this is their superpower! It's best to not give too much background information about the artwork at this stage, so students can develop their own ideas and opinions.

An audio description of the painting is available. It is accompanied by a full written transcript which can also be used to describe the painting.

Nudge questions

Now when looking at the painting, ask more specific ('nudge') questions:

  • What do you think is going on here?
  • What is the mood in this scene?
  • How do the artists express the identities of the different figures?
  • What smells and sounds might you experience if you were transported into the painting?

Questions from The Superpower of Looking Kit

Now we can start to explore the 'elements' of the painting.

For this artwork, you will focus on:

Ask your students to evidence their points:

  • where exactly are they looking when they make a statement?
  • can everybody see what they see?
  • slow down, take time to really look closely

You can introduce knowledge from the contextual background for teachers while asking these bespoke questions with helpful responses which can be found in the teachers' notes.

Everyone learning

You can find out more about The Superpower of Looking® SEND/ASD/ALN approach on the Superpower homepage.

Now it's time to explore the artwork in different ways. This list of sensory activities encourages students to apply their learning and can suit a variety of learning needs.


  • Did you spot figures in the painting wearing tartan, a patterned cloth that originated in Scotland? Students could design their own tartan using coloured paper with this activity from Museums and Galleries Edinburgh. Which colours will they choose?

  • Take inspiration from The Singh Twins by drawing a scene in miniature. Students may like to draw a celebration with their friends, family or school. 


  • Discover music enjoyed by many Scottish Sikhs during wedding celebrations. Watch this video from BBC Scotland which brings together traditional instruments from both India and Scotland.

  • Listen to the audio description of the painting.


  • Feel the different textures in this painting: carpet, teacups, tree bark, plants, clothing, a hat with a pom-pom, a metal watering can. Which are hard and which are soft? Which textures do students like the feel of most?


  • Like the girl in the painting, have a go at a traditional Scottish dance, the Highland Fling. Learn the moves with these young dancers.


  • Invite pairs of students to choose two figures in the painting and imagine the conversation the figures are having.
  • Learn the Makaton sign or British Sign Language for 'celebrate'.

Final stage: review

Ask your students to:

  • share their sketchbooks in groups and discuss the 'elements' they have identified
  • choose an element/aspect they find most interesting about the artwork and record it in their sketchbooks
  • choose their own name/s for the title of the artwork
  • think of a question they would like to ask the artist



You have now completed this lesson resource on The Superpower of Looking.

There are more resources in this theme to try – have a look at the 'next lessons' section below.

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