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Nancy Dantas is an art historian working between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Lisbon. Her research interests pivot on rethinking and reengaging archives within the decolonial present. She is broadly concerned with how to shift the geographies of reason; how to make history’s silences and omissions speak, and is intentional in her research of under-studied and obscured figures in modernist art history—be they artists, gallerists, curators, museum staff—and their stories of resiliance and resistance. 

Nancy received her PhD in Art History from Rhodes University in 2021. She is currently the C-MAP Africa Fellow at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Launched in 2009, C-MAP is a global research initiative intended to deepen the Museum’s range of expertise; expand the criteria by which quality in works of art and artistic movements is defined; enable the Museum to understand more fully the historical imperatives and changing conditions of an increasingly globalized art world; and infuse MoMA’s future with the diverse perspectives of scholars, curators, artists and historians from around the world.

 

Caption: Class visit to St. Martin de Porres in Orlando West, Johannesburg to view ceiling and original pokerwork crucifix by South African modernist Sidney Khumalo (recently recovered from storage by the current parish priest). This commission was conducted through Polly Street and involved the support and engagement of Khumalo’s peers on site. This visit was generously facilitated by Father Bruce Botha and supported by Wits University. The church and its architecture serves equally as an examp

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Caption: Class visit to St. Martin de Porres in Orlando West, Johannesburg to view ceiling and original pokerwork crucifix by South African modernist Sidney Khumalo (recently recovered from storage by the current parish priest). This commission was conducted through Polly Street and involved the support and engagement of Khumalo’s peers on site. This visit was generously facilitated by Father Bruce Botha and supported by Wits University. The church and its architecture serves equally as an examp

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2019

 

Modernisms – Africa and the Global South, University of the Witwatersrand, Department of Art History

Course description: In this course, students and I examined ideas around a multiplicity of Modernisms – African Modernisms and Modernisms in the “Global South”. The methodology adopted sought to privilege our own histories and context, South Africa. By way of authors such as Walter Mignolo and Partha Mitter, we looked at how particular North American and European ideologies and epistemologies have shaped a monolithic and exclusionary understanding of ‘Modernity’ and ‘History’ whilst sidelining and ignoring the reality of other modernisms and histories. By delving widely into geography and map making, accounts of historical events and the worlds and cosmographies of a select number of artists, our collective effort sought to approach the idea of modernism from a decolonizing and reparative perspective. In sifting through multiple sources and gathering some useful theoretical, conceptual and critical strands, it was hoped that students would leave this course with a clearer understanding of the partitioned world we live in and to possible ways of surviving this otherwise hostile universe.

Caption: Guest lecture by Justin Davy of Burning Museum on the memorialization of #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall.

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Caption: Class visit to the archives of the University of South Africa, Pretoria. The intention of this visit was to highlight the existence and importance of archives in the practice of reconstituting exhibitions and understanding their reception. Besides UNISA, students in attendance also visited the Johannesburg Art Gallery archives with an induction to archival systems generously conducted by librarian Ziphezinhle Gwala.

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Caption: Guest lecture by Justin Davy of Burning Museum on the memorialization of #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall.

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2019

 

Exhibition Histories, University of the Witwatersrand, Department of Art History

Course description: This course hinged on the exploration and excavation of a number of exhibitions, initiatives and sites generally occluded and elided from the official Eurocentric account. Essential to this project were a number of questions. Where do exhibitions happen? How are they enabled? How are they remembered? How do they contribute to art history? What do they tell us about how artistic production has been valued and how it has evolved?

 
Adrián Paci
Adrián Paci

Centro di Permanenza Temporanea, 2007

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Allan Sekula and Noel Burch
Allan Sekula and Noel Burch

The Forgotten Space, 2010

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WOM
WOM

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Adrián Paci
Adrián Paci

Centro di Permanenza Temporanea, 2007

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2014

 

(W)hen (O)ceans (M)eet

Vasco Araújo

Jesper Just

Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz

Claudia Ulisses

Adrian Paci

Allan Sekula & Noel Burch

Michaelis Galleries

Cape Town

 

Two-part programme of screenings held between February and April of 2014 at Michaelis Galleries, Cape Town. The selected works commune with the ideal of resistance that inconspicuously bonds, and which in this artificial arena of projection, willfully approximates society’s invisible textile workers and queer bodies, two communities othered by a hegemonic, body-normalizing, depredating capitalist system.

Caption: Class visit to St. Martin de Porres in Orlando West, Johannesburg to view ceiling and original pokerwork crucifix by South African modernist Sidney Khumalo (recently recovered from storage by the current parish priest). This commission was conducted through Polly Street and involved the support and engagement of Khumalo’s peers on site. This visit was generously facilitated by Father Bruce Botha and supported by Wits University. The church and its architecture serves equally as an examp

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Caption: Class visit to St. Martin de Porres in Orlando West, Johannesburg to view ceiling and original pokerwork crucifix by South African modernist Sidney Khumalo (recently recovered from storage by the current parish priest). This commission was conducted through Polly Street and involved the support and engagement of Khumalo’s peers on site. This visit was generously facilitated by Father Bruce Botha and supported by Wits University. The church and its architecture serves equally as an examp

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2019

 

Modernisms – Africa and the Global South, University of the Witwatersrand, Department of Art History

Course description: In this course, students and I examined ideas around a multiplicity of Modernisms – African Modernisms and Modernisms in the “Global South”. The methodology adopted sought to privilege our own histories and context, South Africa. By way of authors such as Walter Mignolo and Partha Mitter, we looked at how particular North American and European ideologies and epistemologies have shaped a monolithic and exclusionary understanding of ‘Modernity’ and ‘History’ whilst sidelining and ignoring the reality of other modernisms and histories. By delving widely into geography and map making, accounts of historical events and the worlds and cosmographies of a select number of artists, our collective effort sought to approach the idea of modernism from a decolonizing and reparative perspective. In sifting through multiple sources and gathering some useful theoretical, conceptual and critical strands, it was hoped that students would leave this course with a clearer understanding of the partitioned world we live in and to possible ways of surviving this otherwise hostile universe.

 

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2011

 

Thin Air

Michael Biberstein

Fernando Calhau

Ivan Grubanov

Ana Manso

 

MARZ Galeria

Lisbon

Press Release

Adrien Missika
Adrien Missika

A Batôns Rompus, 2011

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Adrien Missika
Adrien Missika

Marie-Louise (Ruivina), 2010-2016

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Adrien Missika
Adrien Missika

A Batôns Rompus, 2011

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2011

 

Adrien Missika

Geological Norms

(Sometimes Repeated)

 

MARZ Galeria

Lisbon

 

Solo exhibition by Adrien Missika, the artist’s first in Lisbon. Missika (b. Paris, 1981) works with an array of mediums, from photography to video, to sculpture and installation. This particular show sought to bring the artist’s allegorical interest in geology and mineralogy as activities of unearthing and classifying matter into evidence. In this site-specific installation, Missika plays with our perception, meddling the visual properties of rock and Portuguese blue and white marbleized soap, as well as the taxonomical expectations and deceptions brought about by the exhibition’s title.

 

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2010

 

Quantos Queres

Markus Amm

John Beech

Michal Budny

Sean Edwards

Germaine Kruip

João Seguro

 

MARZ Galeria

Lisbon

 

The inspiration for ‘Quantos Queres’ comes out of a fascination with open-ended interpretation offered by certain objects, in this particular case, the fortune-teller, also known as the quantos queres or mata piolhos in Portuguese. Produced by cutting, folding and unfolding a piece of paper to create a final object of play, this origami device reveals messages of fortune, compliment, mischief, parody or insult, and is of our first encounters with the geometric form, multiple planes, and for many, our first meeting with chance, choice and possibility.

 

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2010

 

Peter Piller

Regionales leuchten

MARZ Galeria

Lisbon

 

Press Release

 
Julian Rosefeldt
Julian Rosefeldt

Lonely Planet, 2006

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Johanna Billing
Johanna Billing

You Don't Love Me Yet, 2003

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Reading room
Reading room

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Julian Rosefeldt
Julian Rosefeldt

Lonely Planet, 2006

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2009

 

MARZlive

Julian Rosefeldt

Johanna Billing

Matt Stokes

Iain Pollard and Jane Forsyth

Filmgruppe West

 

MARZ Galeria

Lisbon

 

‘MARZlive’ presents itself under the guise of a summer festival, and as such, is a celebration of the culture and power of music, and of the festival in its broadest sense as a conduit for the construction of individual and collective identity. At its core, this exhibition aims to show how artists and their continued relationship and rapport with music results from an attitude that is bound to the questioning of artistic autonomy, authority, authorship and the traditional role of the romantic artist as a solitary genius. The works on view, on the most part, belong to an unsettled space of interconnection between art and non-art, art and other disciplines; a space that tests the social boundaries of where, how, with what, and with whom art may be made. Generally speaking, these works, by way of surrogates such as the rock band, the rock concert, the musical, raves and revellers, are quite radical in their wavering visibility as art, for they can most easily, and therein lies their radicality, be filtered into and confused with other economies, or better yet, other industries or cultural forms (music, music videos, film, documentary). As such, one might venture to say that these works, although inscribed in the logic of the art market, frustrate it at the same time. As a festival-exhibition, the works on view are expected to create a kind of discursive space on the whole.

Press Release

 

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2008

 
Ryan Gander

And it came to life

 

This show inaugurated MARZ Galeria in 2008. Born in 1976 in Chester, England, Ryan Gander’s body of work encompasses installation, sculpture, photography, performance, publication, intervention and invention. True to his non-dictatorial stance, the exhibition was veiled in uncertainty and surprise, with narrative and meaning yielded to the place of individual encounter.

MARZ Galeria

Lisbon

 
 

Academic

 
 

Dantas, N. 2017. This Fragile Present: Verfremdung as a strategy of memorial in the work of contemporary South African artists. In: Nettleton, A. & Alubafi Fuba, M. (eds.) 2019. Exchanging Symbols: Monuments and memorial in post-apartheid South Africa. Johannesburg: Sun Press. Ch. 7.    DOWNLOAD

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Dantas, N. 2017. Segundo Acto: Contra el asombro, la sorpresa y la nostalgia.

In: Carvajal, F., Dávila Freira, M. & Tapia, M. (eds.) 2020. 

Archivos del Común II: El Archivo Anómico. Madrid: Ediciones Pasafronteras – Red Conceptualismos del Sur.    DOWNLOAD

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Dantas, N. 2018. A sliver, of a sliver, of a sliver. In: Miranda, M (ed.). Atlântica: Contemporary Art from Angola and its Diaspora. Hangar: Lisbon. 

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Reviews/Interviews (selected)

Nancy Dantas

Looking After Freedom?

Buala, June 2017

Nancy Dantas

‘Justin Davy of Burning Museum’

On Curating, Issue 32

(October 2016): 13-17

Nancy Dantas

‘A South African mural tradition transposed to canvas and clay’

Hyperallergic

December 2015

Nancy Dantas

‘Mining the rich interspace between painting,

sculpture and architecture

Hyperallergic

November 2015

Nancy Dantas

On Kemang Wa Lehulere’s To Whom it May Concern

Art Agenda

February 2015

Commissions (selected)

Sandile Zulu

1:54 

October 2014

Délio Jasse

Ausência Permanente

SMAC

November 2014

Rui Toscano

T de Tornado

Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art

May 2007

Lawrence Weiner

Books do Furnish a Room

Appleton Square

April 2007

Erwin Wurm

Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art

January 2007

John Baldessari

Noses & Ears

Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art

September 2006

Matt Mullican

Room Number 4

Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art

May 2006

Michael Biberstein

Unification Theory Part I

Cristina Guerra Contemporary Art

October 2004

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Perspectival drawing of the Swiss museum’s Magasin (1954) by Robert Strub.

SAVAH Annual Conference, The Faculty of Informatics and Design, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, September 2019

 

Museums Also Die

 

Abstract (Unabridged): On March 31 1966, President Léopold Sédar Senghor, one of the founders and "fathers" of négritude, arrived ahead of schedule for the opening of the Musée Dynamique (the Dynamic Museum), a purpose-built venue erected to house one of the First World Festival of Negro Art’s main attractions, an exhibition of classical African art titled L’Art négre/Negro Art. The museum was also a marker and point of origin and entry to one of Senghor's grand projects, the Cité des arts. Set to occupy the entire Soumbédioune peninsula in Dakar, this groundbreaking and elevating city of arts would not only house a museum, but an artists' residency, an auditorium and a dance company. Due to a budgetary deficit, this grand project - a precursor and blueprint for an arts capital in Africa - never left the drawing table. Only the museum stands in its testimony. 

In this paper, I will trace the beginnings of this splendorous museum, modeled on a columned Greek temple so as to incarnate the beginning of museal modernity in Africa (Ficquet & Gallimardet, 2009: 152). Today a Supreme Court, I posit that it not only houses justice, but the ghost of Sénghor’s unfinished dream, which still stirs and causes trouble. I will unpack Swiss curator Jean Gabus' design of this multi-use space and vision towards a museum in a "constant state of readiness" (Vincent, 2016: 61). Once the point of arrival of the utopian Pan-African reverie, the site stands now as a sort of cenotaph, an empty tomb, productively haunted by the ghosts of Senghor and the many agents who upheld and nurtured this un-dying dream. 

Colonial and Indian Exhibition / caption: Plan of the Royal Commission for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London 1886. Courtesy Royal Geographic Society.

SAVAH Annual Conference

Department of Visual Arts, Stellenbosch University

July 2018

 

Title: Unsettled Legacies: The Colonial and Indian Exhibition as part of the repressed and disavowed in curatorial pedagogy

 

Abstract (unabridged): This presentation looks at the long duree of exhibitions, particularly the overlooked Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 as part of the repressed and disavowed in curatorial pedagogy today. Responding to Felix Vogel’s plea that we look at the canon and practices that are legitimized vis-a-vis those that are disavowed, I argue, in the case of South African exhibition histories, that colonial exhibitions form part of the repressed archive of what remains unresolved in curatorial history, and which we would rather forget. The Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 was intended, according to the official catalogue published by the Royal Commission, to “give to the inhabitants of the British Isles, to foreigners and to one another, practical demonstration of the wealth and industrial development of the outerly portions of the British Empire.” It included a compound that contained “living specimens of the aborigenes” from Africa and Asia, and was located on the outerlying block of the exposition, on the way out near Queen’s Gate Road. “Although not formally part of the exhibition (…) colonized peoples in the Compound served as ‘living’ ethnographic displays” (Heinonen, 2012). This exhibition included an exhibit of the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, with a sub-exhibition of fine arts, assembled by the South African Fine Arts Association (today known as the South African National Association of the Visual Arts). Until the mid 1990s, this association continually organized South Africa’s visual arts representations abroad, including South Africa’s presence at the Venice and São Paulo biennials…

In addition to the fine arts section, comprised mostly of vast uninhabited landscapes, the exhibition included, like the Indian Exhibition, a “Kraal” and “Hut.” These dwellings were situated on the exhibition grounds and were occupied by four unnamed men, together with a husband and wife of San extraction, who busied themselves for six months in front of crowds with the manufacture of weapons, sticks, baskets, wickerwork mats, sieves, beadwork and wire ornaments on site. Besides this living display, arranged by the “Native Department,” the “Malay Department” too carried out a living display of a family of four. This paper addresses this exhibition as part of the repressed history and dark undercurrent that shapes and informs universal exhibitions, trade exhibitions and biennials in more recent times as spectacles of covert racism and imperialism, as well as manifestations of overt nationalism.

View of the Ethnographic Hall at the Iziko South African Museum on the day of its dismantling.

Association for Art History Annual Conference

The Courtauld Institute of Art, London

April 2018

Session: Dialogues: Things and their collectors / Title: Inverting the question: On objects and their makers

 

Abstract (unabridged): In this paper, I wish to tip the scales of power in favour of the elided maker as opposed to the glorified collector. The modern (ethnographic) museum has traditionally privileged the collector, negating the identity, voice and agency of the (Black) individual maker, replacing it with the judicious (white European) voice of the collector and/or ethnographer by mere virtue of the object label. By way of the label, the collector subsumes and appropriates the identity of the object, making it his own; a signifier within a chain of colonial signification. I will argue that decolonial practice entails a tipping over, a rupture with practices of provenance and description. I will be looking at a performance recently held at the South African Museum on the occasion of the dismantling of its ethnographic collection whereby these acts, deemed “criminal,” were highlighted and overturned. In a so-called postcolonial world, the conversation around objects cannot be solely determined by curators and collectors. Discussions and practices of knowing must include makers, even if this means listening to ghosts and the voices of the un-dead.

 

www.forarthistory.org.uk

Activisms in Africa

ISCTE-IUL

Lisbon, January 2017

 

Round table with Pedro Neto (ISCTE-IUL, Lisbon) and Marcos Mavungo (human rights defender and member of the Cabinda-based, government-banned human rights organisation Mpalabanda Associação Civica de Cabinda)

 

Abstract (unabridged): Like a volcano lying dormant, in 2015 #RhodesMustFall ruptured at the University of Cape Town, unleashing a torrent of discontent amongst an initially cohesive and substantive group of students and staff in response to the countless untenable colonial, material and immaterial carriers on campus, from monuments to syllabi. The initial target was the figure of Cecil John Rhodes in all its looming prominence, pride and grandeur. The executor of the “first” blow to this standing – or to be more precise sitting - figure was the then political science student Chumani Maxwele. 

 

On presenting and considering a select number of works of art, performances and transformative gestures produced by visual art students during this time, I hope to address and engage with the concept of aesthetics as politics. I will address these works not only as a series of Oedipal acts, but also as rearrangements and redefinitions of the regime of the visible.

 

www.buala.org

Archivos del común II: El archivo anómico

Museu Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

Madrid, September 2017
 

Session: Gramáticas y Metodologías / Title: Troubling the Archive

 

Abstract (unabridged): In this presentation, I will narrate my experience of working within the South African archive, a colonial patriarchal white male construct, and colonial site of trauma, dispossession and veiled silencing, created to serve and uphold a supremist project of white hegemony which continues to infuse, influence and deform the South African present. For many researchers and artists working around the world, and in the North Atlantic in particular, the archive is generally accepted as a repository of collective memory, but it is important to ask whose memory these storehouses privilege, whose narratives they bring to the fore as they simultaneously and conversely disregard, marginalize, silence, confound or exclude. One cannot forget that the history that has been written and canonized in South Africa is patriarchal and colonial, which begets the people of today to either throw it out, or compels for its revision, its rewriting and its decolonization, by taking what exists, deconstructing these narratives, finding their fault lines, their caesura, changing the voice and language, and looking elsewhere and differently.

Within my presentation, I will provide criticism of the white “curiosity curator” and artist and the gaze of bewilderment and wonder she directs at the colonial archive and its (his)tories; this artist-cum-curator and auteur-author-authority who inhabits the centre where I work, and whom I see as a problematic post-colonial pasticheur of the curiosity cabinet or wunderkammer. The archive, as I see it, is handled and taught by some of my South African peers within the regime of wonder and curiosity by way of a ‘creative’ gaze that is deemed ‘curatorial,’ but which romanticizes and aestheticizes colonial pasts, or so I will argue. The gaze of wonder and curiosity, I posit, which is not exclusive to South Africa, is a colonial, fetishizing and sublimated male, conquering regard that centers and glorifies the collector and his sequitur, the postcolonial pasticheur. This curious regard fails to acknowledge histories of deracination and engage in serious and real processes of justice bearing and pedagogy. To counter this amnesic and wonderous gaze – a gaze you will encounter in the work, to cite a reknowned example, of American artist Mark Dion, whom in a recent interview (25 February 2016) in the New Yorker Times Style Magazine, says “I am interested in how objects in a cabinet become almost pictorial” - casts presentation and form above politics and maintains the rancierian partition of the sensible. I posit that we need to look at the colonial-cum-apartheid archive, in the South African case, with a paranoid, troubling and pensive gaze as opposed to the gaze of curiosity, awe and nostalgia.

 

www.museoreinasofia.es

Vik Muniz, Toni Smith, Die (Pictures of Dust), 2000

MR MIN MEETS MARCEL

Lunchtime Lecture

Michaelis School of Fine Art, March 2013

 

Abstract (unabridged): This talk addresses the image and material existence of dust as a signifier, index and trope within the archive, history and art. This discussion seeks to provide insights into our attraction to this powdery substrate of time and evokes an array of conversing figures within the visual arts, from Marcel Duchamp to Vik Muniz.

Established in 2013 at the University of Cape Town, the Speaker Series is a fringe programme of talks which aims to provide the university's community, both past and present, with an understanding of the practice of curating, exposing audiences to the debates, discourses, dilemmas and procedures of agents working on particular thresholds, within specific geographies, sites and/or with contested histories, archives and curatorial legacies.

 

The series was suspended in 2018 on Nancy Dantas’s departure from the Centre for Curating the Archive.

 

Posters generously designed by Carlos Marzia Studio.

 
 

As a collections manager, my interests are in evaluating and compiling accession records for contemporary and modern art. This includes gathering, compiling and updating provenances. In my work, I endeavor to attend to the preservation and documentation of contemporary art collections. This includes crafting data bases suited to the needs of each collector, populating records with detailed accession and vital provenance information, as well as condition reports where I annotate whether items are fragile and/or exhibit-worthy. This vital task has assisted private collectors locate work, employ preventive conservation measures where needed, understand the scope and value of their acquisitions and address further collection development.

 

Past collections:

Paulo Santo (Portugal)

A. Marques (Portugal)

Manuel and Miguel Rios (Portugal)

 

www.lealriosfoundation.com

 

Nancy Dantas, ‘The Duty of Decolonization or Heeding the Spectres in the Museum and-as Archive,’ The Museum Reader conference (Chiado Museum, Lisbon) February 2017.

 

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