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Art theme: portraits

A portrait is an artwork that depicts a specific individual. Initially, portraiture primarily consisted of paintings of the rich and powerful who had commissioned the work, but the genre has grown to depict a wider range of subjects over time and has been further democratised by photography. The term 'portrait' can also refer to an artwork's layout being taller than it is wide, as opposed to a landscape, which is the opposite.

Contextual background for teachers

The Tailor (2010)
Lubaina Himid (b.1954)

Medium: acrylic on paper
Dimensions: H 183 x W 102 cm

The Tailor is one of a series of paintings featuring Black men entitled Tailor, Striker, Singer, Dandy. They were produced following research by the artist, Lubaina Himid, into the collection of West African textiles at Manchester Art Gallery for an exhibition in 2011.

This project, coupled with the fact that Himid's mother was a textile designer, meant that print, pattern and colour feature heavily in this series as well as in her wider practice. Her work extends to prints, drawings, sculptures and installations. Himid opens up a discussion surrounding Black identity, specifically male Black identity as strong, skilled and confident.

Himid believes our clothes say a great deal about who we are. In The Tailor, she has woven together different patterns that may relate to the complexity of identity – who are we, how do others perceive us and how do our different cultural backgrounds affect us?

Lubaina Himid won the Turner Prize in 2017, the first Black woman to do so.

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.

Nudge questions

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

  • Can you spot the clues that tell us this man is a tailor? (A tailor creates, alters and repairs clothes.)
  • What is in the background of this portrait?
  • Where do you think this portrait was painted?
  • Is the tailor depicted realistically as in a photograph or more stylistically (in a particular style)?

Questions from The Superpower of Looking Kit

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

Use The Superpower of Looking Kit to ask questions about the artwork.

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 may like to introduce knowledge from the contextual background for teachers at this point.

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.




  • Listen to the sound of a sewing machine.



  • Get your students to touch different textiles: jean, cotton, silk, carpet.
  • Get your students to touch objects from the portrait: a measuring tape, scissors, a thread, scraps of fabric and paper.



  • Play a game of musical statues. When the music stops, give a descriptive feeling which students must choose a pose to match (for example: confident, shy, awkward, proud).
  • Get into character and role play being a tailor. You might want to watch the video of Kente cloth weaving below for ideas.



  • Watch this video showing Kente cloth weaving from Africa. Share with your talking partner three things you have learnt from this video.

  • Learn the Makaton sign or British Sign Language for 'clothes'.

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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