2018 PEN Conference - Margie Adam Power Exercises - Activity 3

A picture can say so much more than 1000 words….

Margie Adamis an illustrator who has contributed much to popular education materials, using her art to conscientise. She has worked with many progressive organisations and trade unions, both here in South Africa, and Canada. The most well-known books in South Africa are ‘Educating for a change’ (Between the Lines, 1991), which she designed and illustrated, and ‘Dancing on live embers. Challenging racism in organisations’. (Between the Lines, 2006).

Margie has won numerous awards for her work, such as the 2014 Min Sook Lee Award. Education is at the core of her work, the ability to use art to communicate information in a fun and accessible way. "I think it's absolutely integral," she says about education. "It's the purpose of the work — to raise consciousness.

Looking at the books and manuals that feature her images you realise that ‘pictures’ are not simply decorations. They can contribute significantly to education and learning by helping us to ask new questions, create deeper insights, consider other perspectives, commit to an analysis, begin a dialogue, and so on. As Margie said:

Certainly, images make a page more interesting. We want learning to be pleasurable. So probably illustrations are mainly used to support the text but sometimes they can capture a complex idea in a memorable interesting way.

Margie works closely the educators and has chosen a “style” that is pretty low-tech and simple. I want drawings to be easily reproduced.

To understand what makes a picture more than a decoration, we asked her some questions about what she considers when doing 'learning illustrations'.

Firstly, I need to know who is going to be reading the material. I want the learners to see themselves there, to be invited to engage.

For example, talking about an image depicting a woman carrying a huge load on her head Margie says she tried

to get across the work load women carry but also the knowledge that have that is not “school learning”. It could be used in an inter-active way, by asking the learners to fill in the words. I like that learners can be engaged and add their own knowledge.

I’d like people to be clear, to be critical.

Commenting on the image of 3 men carving up the world she said:

I think learners will enjoy the greedy relish these capitalists show as they stake their claims.  A little humour is always a good thing.

Below, we have taken three of her images and used them as tools to probe and investigate power. You are encouraged to try out these exercises – or better still: create your own! Tell us what happened….


  1. Capturing a complex idea through an image

  1. Describe what you see!
  2. Name the issue: what is the problem shown here?
  3. How does this problem relate to your experiences and everyday life?
  4. Analyse the many ways in which both people’s labour and nature ‘hold up’ and support the production of commodities as shown at the top.
  5. What is the history of this situation / struggle?
  6. What are the opposing interests? How do you engage (with) those power groups?
  7. What are you fighting for? What are the shifts you want to see? (Describe the alternatives in some detail)
  8. What do you need more information about?
  9. What actions should you take
  10. What are strengths and opportunities for those actions, and who does what?
  1. Staking claims: carving up the world…..

  1. Describe what you see in the picture. What are the different responses / attitudes of the 3 men?
  2. Name the issue: what is the problem shown here?
  3. How does this relate to the history of your country?
  4. How does this problem relate to your experiences and everyday life?
  5. What gives the men the power to ‘carve up’ the world and claim land?
  6. What is the result of their actions for the people who live in those countries?
  7. What are other, related problems of these
  8. There have been many calls for ‘decolonisation’. What does this mean to you?
  9. What should happen next; what actions do you propose?
  10. How can those actions be translated / turned into reality?
  1. Use the picture to design your own exercise that shows up power differentials!

2 Examples / possibilities:

  • Ask 2 people to volunteer and place them in the positions you see shown, here.
  • Outline a scenario – for example “applying for a job”, or “waiting for the doctor”, or “consultation with the school principal”.
  • Ask the volunteers to act out the scene.
  • Invite other participants to replace one or both of the women; continue the conversation / scene.
  • De-brief and unpack
  1. Reproduce the image and draw speech bubbles on either side of the figures. Ask participants to fill in the bubbles.

    • What are the women saying? What motivates them?
    • What is the relationship between the two? Why do you think so?
    • Analyse each in terms of the possible sources of her power; analyse the power relations between them.
    • Ask participants to draw in an ally/allies: a person who might swing the power relations.
    • Unpack