Image and identity: case study

Arab artists in schools project

Arab world education programme

The school

Plashet School (Newham, London) is a community comprehensive girls' school and specialist science college for ages 11-16.

A Plashet School student with her artwork

The artists

Khosrow Hassanzadeh is an Iranian artist. His paintings and drawings are visual diaries incorporating his own writings, self-portraits and his experience as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq War. Rima Farah is a Syrian artist who lives in Morocco. Her prints and paintings are influenced by Arabic letterforms and her private Sufi practice.

The project

The project was designed to introduce contemporary Middle Eastern art and specialist screenprinting and calligraphy skills to Year 9 students, and to encourage them to research, explore and celebrate their own family heritage.

There were six sessions including a visit to the British Museum, where students focused on the Word into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East exhibition. Khosrow worked with the students in the gallery, writing their names in Farsi on their sketchbooks and encouraging students to record the exhibition using different styles and different media.

Rima Farah then asked the students to bring in family photographs and ephemera and use them to make black and white collages exploring their own backgrounds (these were later transferred onto silk screens by department staff). The students then began painting a background on three 1m x 10m banners.

Finally, the students screenprinted their family collages onto the banner material, which was then sewn at each end and decorated with gold thread and stitching.

Outcomes

The project successfully challenged stereotypes and existing perceptions of Arab and Middle Eastern achievement. Every student who answered the questionnaire commented that their view had changed in a positive way.

“[The artists were] amazing, so charismatic and direct with the students... they have all learnt how to screenprint and enjoyed the experience of seeing a real artist at work.” - Hazel Lopatkin, art teacher