Nancy Dantas is a contemporary visual studies and exhibition histories scholar working between Johannesburg and Lisbon. Her research interests pivot on rethinking and reengaging archives within the decolonial present. She is broadly concerned with how to make history’s silences speak (Trouillot 1995, Magnayi 2003) and the countless unknown or lesser-known figures in art history seen and heard. She is interested in relics of the past and the ways in which they survive; how “ruins” are cargo to us in the present (Dening 1996), but also to moments in the future. She is drawn to the messages that the past holds - to the codes that fissures and margins encapsulate, to the signs they bear - and the blind spots and cul-de-sacs of history. 

Working within this line of enquiry, Nancy recently submitted her PhD, An Archive of Upset: The Shift from Commissioning to Curating Through South Africa’s Representations at the Bienal de São Paulo and the Interstitial Nexus of Leonard Tshehla Mohapi Matsoso for examination.




(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.





Thin Air

Michael Biberstein

Fernando Calhau

Ivan Grubanov

Ana Manso


MARZ Galeria


Press Release



Adrien Missika

Geological Norms

(Sometimes Repeated)


MARZ Galeria



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.





Quantos Queres

Markus Amm

John Beech

Michal Budny

Sean Edwards

Germaine Kruip

João Seguro


MARZ Galeria



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.





Peter Piller

Regionales leuchten

MARZ Galeria



Press Release





Julian Rosefeldt

Johanna Billing

Matt Stokes

Iain Pollard and Jane Forsyth

Filmgruppe West


MARZ Galeria



‘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




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




Nancy Dantas

‘This Fragile Present'

ed. Anitra Nettleton

(Johannesburg: WITS University Press)


Abstract (unabridged): This paper will ask several questions of public statuary in the decolonized, public arena. What does it mean to decolonize space? Does the decolonization of space necessarily involve the removal of symbols? According to Deleuze and Guattari, the - I will argue colonial - state deterritorializes the Earth, disrupting the wholeness of the planet by striating what was otherwise smooth. It does this by building walls, enclosures, channels and dams in order to control the earth’s flows, becoming an apparatus of capture. It effects this through stone and cement, staking its claim and distributing the Territory; eventually building domineering statues on roundabouts that condition our mobility, and how we see ourselves and our immediate environment, capturing the gaze, generally of tourists and unsuspecting visitors, who will take pictures, posting these to social media, despite their contested histories and legacies of control. Can decolonization - and the attendant genteel or forced removal of symbols - not be seen as re-territorialization? Could the subtraction of the statue not be a smoothening or a return to the territory, a kind of return to flow? Can a vacant pedestal or an empty plinth hold more power, more potential, than a base holding an effigy? Can a vacant base, a site of haunting, become a site of becoming? Are there other ways of undoing the power and diffusing these icons? What can be said of anti-monuments? By looking at the production of a range of contemporary artists working with the legacies of colonialism, this paper seeks to address and engage these topical concerns.


Nancy Dantas,

'The Duty of Decolonisation or Heeding

the Spectres in the Museum and-as Archive,’

The Museum Reader conference (Chiado Museum, Lisbon) February 2017.


Abstract (unabridged): The colonial museum and archive is haunted, ghosted by artists who have been muffled and muted by colonial, racialist and misogynist systems that refuse to acknowledge their presence, let alone contribution to art history, and, in certain instances, to the expansion and revision of the canon, be it modernist or other. Even though we inhabit post-colonial times, the sweep and sheer violence of colonialism’s shadow remains long and wide, by way of imperial categories, colonial taxonomies and an exhibitionary syntax which remains unchanged, keeping Black Africans at bay or within the shadows, cracks and lacunae of the visual arts archive.

This presentation will draw on the idea of decoloniality, not as a metaphor (Tuck, 2012), but as a means of first nations staking their claim to the land and, more significant to our discussion, to institutions which include museums, and their visible and invisible spaces. Here I take and propound decolonization as a form of restorative repatriation, in other words, decolonization as a means of taking back what has been stolen. I will be looking at the archives of the SAAA, a colonial-cum-Apartheid institution that shaped Cape Town’s first art school, the National Art Gallery and South Africa’s presence at a number of international biennials and triennials throughout the Cold War years, highlighting one of its phantoms, visual artist Leonard Matsoso. In this paper, as with my research in general, I will attempt to return what was taken from Matsoso – a deserved place in the annals of art history. My methodology is not to speak for the artist but to resurrect and reinstate Matsoso through his peers and his own neglected visual output.

I will argue that museums perform the decolonial when they ‘dethrone’ and ‘give way.’     more...


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’


December 2015

Nancy Dantas

‘Mining the rich interspace between painting,

sculpture and architecture


November 2015

Nancy Dantas

On Kemang Wa Lehulere’s To Whom it May Concern

Art Agenda

February 2015

Commissions (selected)

Sandile Zulu


October 2014

Délio Jasse

Ausência Permanente


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


Olafur Eliasson, Erosion, 1997

ASAUK Biennial Conference

University of Birmingham

September 2018


Stream: Portuguese-Speaking Africa Beyond Borders: Comparative and Intercultural Approaches / Title: Biennials in Portuguese-Speaking Africa


Abstract (unabridged): In this paper, I trace how several biennials across Portuguese-Speaking Africa have emerged in the wake of (or simultaneous to) the Johannesburg Biennale, and how the latter exerts a haunting effect on the continent and globe. I will posit its failure as a productive hauting, a desire not to repeat but to difference, and will attempt to measure the difference of the Bienal de São Tomé e Príncipe and the Luanda Triennial against the Johannesburg Biennale, as well as other historic biennials, held across the continent as manifestations of a greater trend of biennialisation and global expedience. This paper is squarely situated as a contribution towards exhibition histories and an analysis of the curatorial in Africa. It raises several questions: Why should we study these biennials? Are biennials still imperial or stately tools or are they sites of emancipated, critical practice? Do biennials bring Portuguese-Speaking Africans closer? What have these biennials contributed to exhibition histories in Africa and the Global South?

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.

Activisms in Africa


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.

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.

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.

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


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.

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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)


Nancy Dantas completed her MA in Contemporary Art, Theory and Criticism at the University of Essex under the supervision of Prof Margaret Iversen and holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Curatorial Studies and Exhibition Organization awarded to her by the Faculdade de Belas Artes de Lisboa. She is currently a PhD candidate in Art History with a focus on Exhibition Histories at Rhodes University under the supervision of Dr Ruth Simbao (Grahamstown, South Africa). She graduated in Communication Science from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in 2001.


For almost two decades, she has worked interchangeably as a curator, independent collections manager, registrar, project manager, freelance press liaison, writer, editorial assistant, educator and translator. She was responsible for co-founding MARZ Galeria in Lisbon in 2008 (now defunct), and was the Executive Director at Ellipse Foundation, a contemporary art foundation established in 2004 to support contemporary artists through a variety of initiatives, including acquisitions and commissions, as well as residency, scholarship and education programmes. Prior to this, she formed a part of the team responsible for the Portuguese Representation at the Venice Biennale, working under the Portuguese Ministry of Culture towards the realization of João Penalva’s installation at Palazzo Vendramin dei Carmini.


Between January 2013 and March 2018. Nancy held the position of liaison officer to the Honours in Curatorship programme, run by the University of Cape Town in close collaboration with Iziko Museums of South Africa. Besides overseeing the general running of the academic programme, she was responsible for the Speaker Series, a parallel programme of talks with professionals and agents working in the field.


Her intertwined and mutually informed research interests include the trope of dust, envisioning decolonial practice, as well as exhibition histories in the global south, the latter being the focus of her PhD research.