Identity Constructs

Key Concepts

      • Identity is a socially and historically constructed concept. We learn about our own identity and the identity of others through interactions with family, peers, organizations, institutions, media and other connections we make in our everyday life.
      • Key facets of identity—like gender, social class, age, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity—play significant roles in determining how we understand and experience the world, as well as shaping the types of opportunities and challenges we face.
      • Social and cultural identity is inextricably linked to issues of power, value systems, and ideology.
      • The media uses representations—images, words, and characters or personae—to convey specific ideas and values related to culture and identity in society.
      • via Critical Media Project


Who Are You?

The contemporary art world is consumed with the idea of deconstructing one’s identity. This means that in order to create art ourselves, we should look critically at our own biases and proclivities. And how these things came to be.  This does not mean that all of our has to be about the construction of our idenity, and the politics that come along with it, but rather that we are aware of how we are formed by our culture, our families, and society in large. A heightened awareness of these factors will seep into our work without even us having to do it consciously.


Obviously, one place we can begin to dissect the creation of our identities is within our race, which carries all sorts of other issues. Now, I understand that many of you have an aversion to classifying yourself as part of a race or gender, and for this reason the writing portion of this lesson can be done privately. You do not need to post the results on your blog. However, by looking at ourselves, our families, and the nations from which we come we can also gain insight into why we make art the way we do. In the following examples below I have created a series of works which investigate the intersections between Hip-Hop and contemporary art. The inception of Hip Hop culture is generally associated with the inner city of the US, and predominantly African-American culture. Obviously it is now a global phenomenon and has been incorporated in various cultures throughout the world.  These subcultures are also interesting to investigate as well. As someone who grew up in rural state where farming and country music are the norm, I loved Hip Hop from a young age.  And bootlegged tapes of it to all my friends. But my experience with Eazy-E is obviously quite different than had I been born a black woman in Detroit.   And becoming aware of this difference is  needed to create contemporary art dealing with these themes.


Hennesey Youngman

Kehinde Wiley 


Tahir Hemphill

The Hip-Hop Word Count (HHWC) is a searchable ethnographic database built from the lyrics of over 40,000 Hip-Hop songs from 1979 to present day. The database is the heart of an online analysis tool that generates textual and quantified reports on searched phrases, syntax, memes and socio-political ideas.

David Blandy


Double Conscious

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 14.35.58



Kevin Beasley


Jay-Z Picasso Baby

Rashaad Newsome

Young Thug





You will start this assignment by meditating for no less than 5 minutes. If you are unfamiliar with meditation techniques then watch this video which is a good introduction. We do this because we can’t psychoanalyse ourselves since psychoanalysis requires one person to talk, and the other to listen. So instead, just try to clear your mind and sense of self and identity. We will then proceed to the second half of the assignment. Do not continue reading until you finish meditating.

Now that you have finished I want you to get a piece of paper, and a pencil and write down where you come from, your race, your gender, social status, community, interests, and everything else you find relevant to the construction of self.

Now, ask yourself how these constructions help inform the creation of your artwork. Don’t just say that they don’t, because you weren’t born in a vacuum chamber in space. Who we are is not just genetics, it is our culture which has formed us as well.

Once you’ve completed this I want you to go back to the previous assignment where you listed the group of artists which you find inspiring. Compare these two lists and see what ideas flow between both of them.  Dig deeper into these artists, and find out about their pasts, and their ideas. Are they similar to yours? If so, try to write a short summary of this one idea that binds you together. Just a simple sentence will do.  Do not throw this away, we’ll need to use it later.

Also, if you are adventurous you can begin a dream journal where you quickly write down all of dreams upon awaking.  By rereading these dreams it is possible ( sometimes ) to see more about where we are currently.

The human body is central to how we understand facets of identity such as gender,sexuality, race, and ethnicity. People alter their bodies, hair, and clothing to align with or rebel against social conventions and to express messages to others around them. Many artists explore gender through representations of the body and by using their own bodies in their creative process.

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The Self in Jungian psychology is one of the Jungian archetypes, signifying the unification of consciousness and unconsciousness in a person, and representing the psyche as a whole. The Self, according to Carl Jung, is realized as the product of individuation, which in his view is the process of integrating one’s personality.

The central dot is the Ego whereas the Self is both the whole and the centered dot
For Jung, the Self is symbolized by the circle (especially when divided in four quadrants), the square, or the mandala.

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Contemporary Artists Dealing With Identity


Cindy Sherman


Louise Bourgeois

Bill Viola

Renee Cox

Back to: Crash Course in Contemporary Art: Studio