Visual Dialogues

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Teaching resource: Gender and Identity

Transcript of Visual Dialogues

  • Gender and


  • This resource will focus on gender and identity through some of the key concepts and processes used within keystage 3 and 4 subjects; Art and Design, Citizenship, English, History and Cross-Curriculum dimensions (identity and cultural diversity, healthy lifestyles, community participation, enterprise, global dimension and sustainable development, technology, and media and creativity and critical thinking).


  • 3Intro .................................................................... 4

    The Works ........................................................... 7

    The Visual Dialogue ............................................10

    Visits and Trips .................................................. 24

    Classroom Activities .......................................... 26

    Teaching Materials ............................................ 33


  • 4Intro

  • 5For centuries artists have used gender and identity as subjects to comment on cultures. This resource will explore questions such as What is identity? What identifies us? Does our gender have a specific role in todays society?

    To encourage discussions and creative activity around the theme of gender and identity, this pack will study and interpret a historical work by William Maw Egley, and a contemporary piece by Hannah Starkey. In both works each artist explores gender and identity in relation to the social and historical context specific to the time which the work was made.

    PRojECT ovERvIEw

  • 6Creating A Visual Dialogue

    To study gender and identity in todays society it is important for students to understand a little about how identities and gender roles have altered overtime.

    Students may find it difficult to relate to historical works (or characters) and understand what the artist is portraying.

    This can be overcome by studying a historical work alongside a contemporary work, i.e. William Maw Egleys historical piece, The Lady of Shalott (1858), and Hannah Starkeys contemporary work, Butterfly Catchers (1999). By displaying and studying these two artworks simultaneously a unique juxtaposition is created, enhancing the works (and periods) similarities and differences; themes which run through both the historical and contemporary pieces appear clearer. Through this process a visual dialogue is created, allowing young people to explore and relate to contemporary and historical cultures at ease (see Visual Dialogues contextual page for more info).


    How To Use The Resource

    It is possible to use any contemporary and historic artwork in addressing issues of gender and identity. You may prefer to study alternative works for example a visual interpretation of an era you are specifically studying, or a piece which students have seen previously.

  • 7The works

  • 8Hannah Starkey Butterfly Catchers 1999

    Hannah Starkey, born in 1968 in Belfast (Northern Ireland), is a photographer recognised for her images that explore everyday experiences and observations of inner city life from a female perspective. She studied Photography and Film at the Napier University, Edinburgh and Photography at the Royal College of Art, London.

    Starkey uses a documentary/cinematic style to suggest that she has taken photos of personal moments between the characters while they are unaware. This creates awkwardness for the viewer as the perspective makes us feel that we are intruding - often witnessing some sort of silent drama that. Her static images imply there is a narrative, as they suggest to the audience that the photographed is just a freeze frame, and the scene continued. These narratives are built through her characters and situations, implying issues of class, race, gender, and identity through the physical appearance of her models or places. Much of Starkeys works are untitled, encouraging the viewer to project their own thoughts onto the works.

    Interested in creating a social commentary for the viewer, her pieces are often based on political issues from a personal perspective. Both of these elements feature in Starkeys photo, Butterfly Catchers (1999). Taken on Falls Road in Belfast the piece focuses on her strong matriarchal upbringing in the area. This piece shares Starkeys observation of her mothers identity, and her relationship with the community, especially other women.

    ThE woRks

  • 9ThE woRks

    William Maw Egley The Lady of Shalott 1858

    William Maw Egley, born 1926, was the son of portrait painter and miniaturist, William Egley (1798 1870). Trained by his father, Egley began painting professionally when he was 14 years old. He began his early carer by creating fashionable literary illustrations of Shakespeare and Dickens. Influenced by his father, and using these authors texts as stimuli, he became fascinated by painting costume detail.

    William Maw Egleys The Lady of Shalott (1858) is a painting of Alfred Lord Tennysons poem, The Lady of Shalott, based on the legend of King Arthur. This poem tells the story tells of a cursed woman who was trapped in a tower, only allowed to watch the world through reflections in a mirror if she directly looked out the curse would take over and she will die. Egleys work captures the moment when the knight Lancelot appears in order to rescue her. The Lady of Shalott looks out of the window, this initiates the curse and there for she is condemned to die. Both Tennysons and Egleys sad text and scene reflect the Victorian love of romance and tragedy, themes that were often played out within medieval settings.

  • 10

    The visual Dialogue

  • 11

    What information can we gain about the artists comments on gender and identity just by looking at the painting?

    The following discussions works best if you display both Butterfly Catchers and The Lady of Shalott side by side (use the colour images provided in the Teaching Materials section)


  • 12

    Hannah Starkey

    Starkeys work Butterfly Catchers explores political issues in Belfast from a personal feminine perspective, having grown up in the area. Due to her strong matriarchal upbringing this piece focuses on the role of women in inner city life and addresses social issues from her mothers era to the present day.

    Butterfly Catchers suggests that Starkey has taken a photo of a personal moment between the characters while they are unaware. However she never snaps and always asks permission before she takes a photo She achieves this affect by using actors (or strangers) to construct realistic scenes, as if the characters are paused in monotonous moments of life. Starkey describes this process as collaboration between her and the model, as they work out what we want the picture to create, this allows them (the sitter) space to present themselves These artificial, but realistic images give the effect that Starkey has come across and captured a fleeting moment by chance and simultaneously elevating the importance of this seemingly everyday photo.

    Starkey uses constructive photography method (See Medium and Materials), not documentary, as she feels this method gives her more responsibility to convey a story to the viewer. Through this method Starkey creates layers of visual information. This allows the viewer to work their way through the image, each layer leading to ambiguous directions within the viewers personal psyche.

    PERsoNAl REsPoNsE

    William Maw Egley

    Inspired by many of the Pre-Raphaelite artists, Egleys work, The Lady of Shallot, combines a moral message with hard edged realism.

    The Lady of Shallot has been the inspiration for many artists works, each varied depending on the individual artist. The individual artists' decisions to depict specific narrative moments within the poem suggests their differing interpretations of the status of women. The Victorian Webb

    William Maw Egley has left the viewer space for them to decipher why he has selected this particular moment in the story. Until this point, The Lady of Shalott preserves her safety by staying within the confines of her tower and not participating in any sort of active pursuit. This fits perfectly with the concept of the actual Victorian woman, whom society expected to accept her role as protectress of the home. The Victorian Webb

    While Egleys section of the tale maybe interpreted as being a joyous moment (the Lady of Shallot has just rebelled against the curse finding her independence and taking the first steps by looking out of the window), it also conveys a woman on the edge of abandoning her social responsibility in her pursuit of love.

  • 13

    How do these pieces make you feel?

    Does it look like a nice place to be?

    How do you think the characters may feel?

    Do the women look happy?

    Why do these men (Egley and Tennyson) comment on womens identities?

    How do artists let their personal experience feed through to the images?

    How does this make the audience feel towards these characters?

    Both of the works show women from different eras in different environments, which do you think look trapped?


  • 14



    A photograph is an image created by the action of light on a light-sensitive material at some stage during its making. It can be either a positive or negative image and made using one of many processes.

    Hannah Starkey is a photographer and uses this medium to create Butterfly Catchers. She uses photography as a tool to make herself and the viewer think about what theyre looking at. Starkey comments that using this medium Teaches you to look and observe your surroundings (fr