Combined Projects

Portraits of Power: Women Leaders in African Art

Cristin Cash

Cohort 2020-2021


You are a part of a global effort to increase access to education and empower students through “open pedagogy.”  Open pedagogy is a “free access” educational practice that places you – the student – at the center of your own learning process in a more engaging, collaborative learning environment.  The ultimate purpose of this effort is to achieve greater social justice in our community in which the work can be freely shared with the broader community.  This is a renewable assignment that is designed to enable you to become an agent of change in your community through the framework of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  For this work, you will integrate the disciplines of Education; Art to achieve SDG #04: Quality Education SDG #5: Gender Equality;SDG #10: Reduced Inequalities;SDG #16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions;

Learning Objectives

This assignment promotes the UN goals for Quality Education and Gender Equality through student investigation of the power of representation. Portraits of Women Leaders in African art provides rich context the development of skills in visual and data literacy, critical thinking, effective communication and self-reflection. Content can be adapted to any cultural context in order to empower women and help them envision themselves as leaders globally or in local communities.


This active learning practice is designed to improve your academic skills, increase community connections, and improve social justice for our community.

Instructions:  Assignment (student-led, peer reviewed, instructor as facilitator), designed as a full-semester project aligned with art history/visual literacy skill building embedded in the course content and schedule. 

Part 1

Select a work of art by an African artist that represents or depicts a woman leader. The artwork may be from any geographic region, time period, and cultural context – the decision is yours. 

1. QUICK LOOK: Record your initial impression of the artwork (e.g. “What caught your eye?”). This should be done loosely while browsing for images but record it so that it can be looked up afterwards. 

2. CLOSE LOOK: After you select your work of art, spend a few minutes looking more closely. Note your observations about the visual qualities and content of the artwork. 

3. INITIAL RESPONSE: Write down what words, experiences, or associations come to mind as you reflect on the overall style and subject of the artwork. 

4. DESCRIPTION: Now describe what you observe in the artwork and how the visual qualities evoke a response. Use specific visual evidence to write a short summary about why you chose this image, how it connects to our discussion of African women leaders/leadership, and one or more of the SDGs. 

Online Activity: Students should post the image they have selected and Part 1 in the Class Discussion Forum.

Part 2

5. CREATIVE INTERPRETATION: Write a very short story that can accompany your chosen image. Build your own narrative about the women leader represented in your artwork. 

6. CONTEXTUALIZATION: Collect research related to the woman represented in your artwork and her culture of origin. Use at least two reliable sources. Make sure you cite your data sources. 

7. DISCUSSION: Pair an image of your artwork with the data you have collected. Provide a summary of your research for peer review. 

a. Describe what you think your artwork communicates about this African women leader

b. Explain your interpretation of how the visual qualities of the artwork represent these ideas

c. Describe the historical and cultural context of the artwork and its subject.

d. Make an argument if the artwork accurately or inaccurately represents the role, symbolism or context of the life and achievements of the subject. 

e. Briefly, speak to how hearing from current African women leaders has changed your perspective on how you see the artwork as a representation of a historical woman leader.Part 3 

8. CREATIVE RE-INTERPRETATION: Using your artwork, your knowledge about its subject and her culture of origin, and the research you have collected – it’s time to tell a new story! (or adapt your previous one). 

Create something new that brings your

Format Requirements



Portraits of Power: Women Leaders in African Art is licensed by Cristin Cash, Montgomery College; , ; ,  under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA)