Jordan Casteel, Sylvia's (Taniedra, Kendra, Dedelia, Crizette, De'Sean), 2018. Oil on canvas

Jordan Casteel: Honoring Community Members

Jordan Casteel, Sylvia's (Taniedra, Kendra, Dedelia, Crizette, De'Sean), 2018. Oil on canvas

Jordan Casteel, Sylvia's (Taniedra, Kendra, Dedelia, Crizette, De'Sean), 2018. Oil on canvas; 90 x 78 in.Purchased with Funds from CultureHaus, a support group of the Denver Art Museum, Burgess Services, Maude B. Lofton M.D., Robert F. Smith Family, Tina Walls, and other donors. © Jordan Casteel.

Denver-born artist Jordan Casteel’s approach to selecting subjects involves walking around her neighborhood and taking photographs of people in her community. By transforming these photographs into larger-than-life portraits, Casteel reveals her subjects’ humanity and celebrates Black individuals. The figures look directly out of the canvas at the viewer as if sparking a conversation. They invite our respect because their faces, and more specifically their eyes, imply a genuine exchange between the artist and sitter at the moment of meeting. Slow down today and make space to discuss whose images and voices deserve greater recognition.

Painting for me is about seeing. It’s about slowing down enough to either see something you haven’t seen before or see yourself authentically considered and represented...I felt like the world didn’t necessarily see and know them as I see and know them. As my brothers, as my father, as friends, as lovers…whatever they are I felt that there was an intimacy I had access to that I felt painting might give a way of giving other people access to.

—Jordan Casteel

Guiding Questions

  • Casteel focuses our honoring individuals which in turn draws attention to implicit bias and systematic racism. What are some examples of laws or rules that feel unfair? What can we do when rules are not fair for everyone.
  • If you could honor an “unseen” person in your life with a portrait the way Jordan Casteel does, who would it be? How would you choose to represent their humanity and individualism?
  • What kind of community do you want to live in? Why is that important to you? How is that different from what you see now? What are some things that need to happen to make that change?
  • How do you feel when you’re seen for who you really are? What can you do in your everyday life to make others feel seen?
  • How can we use our voices, skills or connections to affect change?

Create: Make a portrait illustrating a member of your community who often goes “unseen.” Alongside the drawing, painting, or photograph, write or discuss why this member of the community should be seen and honored.

Related Creative Activities

Lesson Plan

Building outside the box

Explore architecture with the idea that buildings don't have to be box-shaped. Students will create their own architectural designs by literally thinking outside the box.