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The Tailor (2010)

by Lubaina Himid (b.1954)

Medium: acrylic on paper
Dimensions: H 183 x W 102 cm

The Tailor is one of a series of paintings featuring Black men entitled, Tailor, Striker, Singer, Dandy. They were produced following research by the artist, Lubaina Himid, into the collection of West African textiles at Manchester Art Gallery for an exhibition in 2011. This project, coupled with the fact that Himid's mother was a textile designer, meant that print, pattern and colour feature heavily in this series as well as in her wider practice. Her work extends to prints, drawings, sculptures and installations. Himid opens up a discussion surrounding Black identity, specifically male Black identity as strong, skilled and confident.

Himid believes our clothes say a great deal about who we are. In The Tailor, she has woven together different patterns that may relate to the complexity of identity – who are we, how do others perceive us and how do our different cultural backgrounds affect us? 

Stage 1: look, describe and discuss

The Tailor

The Tailor 2010

Lubaina Himid (b.1954)

Manchester Art Gallery

Show your students this painting and ask them: Are they interested or not interested? Why?

Ask them to describe the figure and what's going on in the background and around them.

Don't tell them too much about what the picture represents at this stage. Once you have interpreted an image, or been told what to see, it is difficult to look freshly and critically at it or appreciate each other's views.  

Tip: use the zoom feature on the image below to look closer at details. You can open a full-screen version by clicking here.



Stage 2: nudge questions

Now when looking at the painting, ask more specific ('nudge') questions:

  • How has the character and identity of the person in the painting been expressed?
  • Do his clothes tell us anything about his character or how he is feeling?
  • Are there any other clues or symbols that tell us something about his personality or career?
  • Is the tailor depicted accurately as in a photograph or more stylistically and decoratively?

Suggested activity: a picture's worth a thousand words

Remove the painting from display. Whilst it's not visible, ask your students to work in pairs to write down as many words as they can think of to describe the picture, including details they can see and words that describe what the figure might be thinking and feeling. Give them around five minutes to do this.

Once time is up, display the painting again and discuss the words they jotted down as a class. What words were most common? Were any unusual or new to some of the class? What do these new words mean? Are there any features of the painting that the class didn't describe? Why might this be?

Students at Tarves Primary (Aberdeenshire) describe 'The Tailor' from memory

Students at Tarves Primary (Aberdeenshire) describe 'The Tailor' from memory

Stage 3: Superpower Kit questions

Now we can start to explore the 'elements' of the painting. Use the Superpower Kit to ask questions about the work and spark a discussion.  

We’d suggest focusing on the following areas to help your students 'read' the image (click to open the relevant Superpower Kit section):


Colour (and pattern)


Ask your students to evidence their points, e.g. where exactly are they looking when they make a statement? Can everybody see what they see?

Final stage: review

Ask your students: how interested are they in the image now? Why?

At this point, you may also want to give your students some time to record and review their observations in a sketchbook on their own or in pairs.

Sketchbook observations on 'The Tailor' at Willow Farm Primary (Nottingham)

Sketchbook observations on 'The Tailor' at Willow Farm Primary (Nottingham)

Comparison activity

Compare The Tailor with Edgar Degas' 1879 painting Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando.

In order to support the discussion, you may wish to focus on the following areas of the Superpower Kit: Figures, Space and Materials & Techniques.

Cross-curricular activities: Black History and Art & Design / Languages

The Tailor and Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando feature Black and mixed-heritage figures with diverse and creative careers. You may wish to solely extend into a Black History lesson by watching and discussing Black British Stories on BBC Teach with your students.


You could also extend into an Art & Design lesson by tasking your own students with designing a textile pattern or print connected with their personal heritage.

As touched on in the context box, Himid was born to a textile designer mother in Zanzibar in East Africa, and The Tailor is one of five portraits Himid produced after researching the collection of West African textiles at the Gallery of Costume in Manchester Art Gallery. She presents a contemporary take on how modern-day men might wear these bright prints.

In the following film, Himid explores the roots of these textiles while discussing her 2021 installation, Lost Threads. You may wish to watch an excerpt with your students, such as from 1:07 to 4:32, in order to introduce the colonial history connected to the textiles in this installation and in The Tailor.

What might the tailor and Miss La La's outfits tell us about them? Discuss this and the following examples of clothing and costume design from other works on Art UK:

Using materials available in class (e.g. pen and paper, paint, fabric, etc.), task your students with designing a textile pattern or print that represents them or tells a story connected with their heritage, place and/or identity.


Alternatively, use one of the images to inspire Language learning. The comparative work, Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando, features a famous acrobat performing at a circus in Paris painted by French artist Edgar Degas. Extend into a Languages lesson by tasking your students with describing this painting or The Tailor in a language they have been learning in school, whether that be a Modern Language (French, German, Spanish, etc.) or a non-English native language (Gaelic, Scots, Welsh, etc.). Focus on areas of vocabulary they have learned in class, e.g. colours, appearance and clothes.

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