Maps: case study

Arab artists in schools project

Arab world education programme

The school

Heston Community School (Hounslow, London) is a mixed community comprehensive and specialist arts college for ages 11-18.

Students from Heston Community College working on map project

The artist

Maria Kheirkhah is a British-Iranian conceptual artist who uses performance, photography and video to explore issues of national identity and cultural stereotypes.

The project

Maria ran six sessions with a group of fifteen Year 9 students (from a Gifted and Talented class). Students researched and explored how and why the Middle East has been mapped, incorporating food and music into their work. They also visited the British Museum to study Middle Eastern maps and artefacts.

In school the students discussed the meaning behind signs and symbols of the Middle East. They used the imagery they had researched, including flags, geometric patterns, Arabic sayings and navigational symbols, to decorate and collage a large sheet of paper.

Maria and the students discussed what the final outcome might be for the project and agreed on a loose concept combining Middle Eastern maps, flags, meal recipes, geometric patterns and journey routes.

Students were split into groups with different jobs: some painted the borders and map itself, some cut and glued on maps of the Middle East, some wrote Arabic, Persian and English text (including recipes) around the borders and some used coloured string to mark out routes across the region. The finished canvas map was ironed and displayed in the art department.


The students gained first-hand experience of working with a successful practising artist from the Middle East and gained significant knowledge of the region’s physical and cultural landscapes. Their understanding of geography and art was challenged, broadened, and connected.

The diversity of the school was fully reflected in the focus of the project. The project also successfully challenged and engaged the Gifted and Talented students, who were proud of their achievement.

“[The project was] a fantastic introduction to the world of maps and the Middle East for the whole department. We had not thought about maps as a possible art scheme of work before … they are such a rich source of learning.” - Steve Hook, Head of Art