Investigating Identity

Discover how artists mine the concept of identity—and often challenge it—in their work.


The Body in Art

Discover how artists represent and use the body to investigate their relationships to gender and identity.


Constructing Gender

Explore how artists examine the relationship between gender and society.


Intersecting Identities

Artists often address their multiple, intersecting identities in a work of art.


Identity is the way we perceive and express ourselves. Factors and conditions that an individual is born with—such as ethnic heritage, sex, or one’s body—often play a role in defining one’s identity. However, many aspects of a person’s identity change throughout his or her life. People’s experiences can alter how they see themselves or are perceived by others. Conversely, their identities also influence the decisions they make: Individuals choose their friends, adopt certain fashions, and align themselves with political beliefs based on their identities. Many artists use their work to express, explore, and question ideas about identity.

The shared cultural identity of persons from a particular national, linguistic, or geographical group.

The biological classifications, usually male and female, that are determined by chromosomes, hormonal profiles, and internal and external sexual organs.

The characteristics that determine one's self.

Related Artists: Claude Cahun (Lucy Schwob), Marcel Moore (Suzanne Malherbe), Revital Cohen, John Coplans, Robert Gober, Frida Kahlo, Deborah Kass, Glenn Ligon, Ana Mendieta, Mariko Mori, Senga Nengudi, Adrian Piper, Richard Prince, Shahzia Sikander, Laurie Simmons, Lorna Simpson

Questions & Activities

  1. Identity Exchange

    This activity is for a group or a classroom.

    Brainstorm. Each person should receive ten index cards. On each card, write a word or a phrase describing something that is important to your identity.

    Connect. Lay your cards out on a desk or surface. Walk around the room, reading what others wrote on their cards. Anytime you see a word or phrase that you also identity with, add a dot sticker to that person’s card.

    Reflect. As a group, discuss what you noticed during this exercise. Which cards had the most dot stickers on them? Did anything surprise you?