Social Issues Silhouettes


I decided I wanted to try something new to begin the year with my advanced classes. I had been looking at the work of Kara Walker a lot this summer, and she served as the inspiration for these silhouette projects.

I was a little bit apprehensive, because her work deals with such controversial topics and the imagery can be disturbing at times. I spent a lot of time considering the images I would show, and I gave my students fair warning about what we would be seeing and discussing just so they were prepared. In addition, this was done with my juniors and seniors, so they were a little more prepared to deal with everything. That is not to say that this shouldn’t be done with younger kids–I don’t want to scare you off–but just a heads-up that you need your due diligence when you’re picking out images and discussion topics.

All of that being said, we let the discussion of Walker’s work slowly morph into a discussion about social issues.

What are the issues facing teenagers?

What are social issues we must deal with locally or nationally?

What issues are facing others in the world?

We went way more in-depth than that, but that would be a general outline from which we started. From there, students chose an issue that they felt strongly about. The personal reaction is key here, so they have the passion to make this work successful.

The Process

Once students had their issues selected, we began brainstorming and sketching to determine what kind of imagery we would need–with no words allowed. After sketches were made, I had students show their ideas to friends, family, teachers, and whoever else they wanted. The litmus test is this: if viewers can understand your work, and which issue you are presenting without explanation, you are good to go. If you have to explain it to the viewer, your image needs to be reworked. You keep reworking until your voice and your image present exactly what you want to the viewer. Once students have that clear, powerful visual, they are ready to move on to finalizing images on their project paper.

Choices in composition are key here, and students MUST work out the finer details and smaller parts of the project before they get started. Whether they are cutting out the silhouette or coloring it with a Sharpie, if they are lacking in attention to detail the project can be derailed.

Most of my kids chose to utilize the markers–I think it’s a comfort level thing–but the exacto knife masters did a pretty nice job with their work as well. I can’t recommend one over the other, so I’ll recommend that you give the kids a choice–I promise they’ll appreciate it.

Hopefully they accomplished what they set out to do. If any of the images need explaining, feel free to leave a comment and I will go back to yell at them :)


Leave a comment


  1. Looks like a very successful lesson. The images are quite moving. Congratulate your students.

  2. Chloe Kehm

     /  October 3, 2014

    In my drawing class in the spring we did a Kara Walker project and it was definitely a really great project to start a class with and helped us understand form more, though she encouraged us to explore any topic. Way to make it in the paper too Bogatz!


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