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These activities focus on works of art in the Whitney’s collection and special exhibitions. Through discussion, research, art making, and writing activities, we hope to encourage close looking, foster conversation between students, and connect artwork to classroom learning. Learn about our four artist-centered themes.

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Create a new kind of portrait.

Lorna Simpson has used portraiture, biography, text, and metaphor to examine the construction of identity. Simpson juxtaposes carefully chosen pictures and words to question what people know and understand about African American history and experience. She asks the viewer to think about the relationship between photographs and text. In 2 Tracks, it is hard to tell very much about the young woman who faces away from the camera.

Discuss this portrait as a class. Why would Simpson choose to show this woman’s back, and not her face? How might the words BACK and TRACK relate to the photograph? If this woman could turn around and speak to you, what do you think she might say? What would you say to her?

Ask students to find a partner and  have them take pictures of each other from behind, so that their face doesn’t show. Have them each write two words that describe their ‘back’ portrait. Discuss these images and words as a class. What can clothes, hair, and surroundings tell you about a person? How do you make those judgments or assessments? What might be accurate, and what might be misleading?

Lorna Simpson, 2 Tracks, 1990  91.59.4a-e For Teachers