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Alison Kearney 2

Associate Professor
Name: Alison Kearney
Location: 119, FADA Building Bunting Road Campus
FADA Visual Art Permanent Academic Staff  Staff Members

Contact Details:
Tel: +27(0)11 559 1113


About Prof. Alison Kearney

About Prof. Alison Kearney

​​Subject Head: Art History and Theory

Module Leader: PGCE Art and Design

Lectures in:

Art History and Theory II & III & IV

Research Design

Postgraduate Supervision

Qualifications: BAFA (Wits); MAFA (Wits); PGCE (Wits); PhD (Wits)

Short Biography:

Prof. Alison Kearney is a Johannesburg based artist, researcher and arts educator with a multi-disciplinary research praxis focused on exploring epistemologies of art. Her praxis includes making artworks that critically engage with the discourses and institutions of art as well as theorising modernist and contemporary African artworks that challenge inherited, western discourses of art. These interests are brought into her teaching through what and how she teaches university students, as well as the educational work that Alison does with diverse audiences in the Wits Art Museum. Alison is committed to writing about African art that challenges Western epistemologies of art; to make explicit the ways in which art making and theorizing art can be understood as research praxis; and to contribute to decolonizing art history by developing unorthodox ways of writing about art.

Alison’s artworks have been included in numerous group exhibitions in South Africa and abroad. In 2008 she held her fourth solo exhibition titled ‘Offerings’, at The Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg [January to February 2008]. Parts of this exhibition were exhibited in a solo exhibition at the KZNSA in Durban, titled ‘Put Something in to take Something Out’ in May 2008. Since 2022 Alison has been developing a new body of work titled “The Museum Under Erasure” through which she interrogates issues to do with how value is determined in culture and challenge the institutions of art through performativity and parody. Her public performance works enable an exploration of the role of the audience in making meaning and contributing to the creative process when engaging with conceptual art.

Prior to taking up her current post as Associate Professor in Art History in the Division of Visual Art, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Johannesburg, Alison taught visual art, art history and art education at University level for the past 16 years. In addition to her permanent, full time academic post, since 2013, Alison has worked closely with the education curator at Wits Art Museum to develop the education program at Wits Art Museum, including writing education materials, facilitating workshops with teachers and school learners, and training Wits Art Museum docents.

Alison is an active member of the professional Art History community through the many academic citizenship activities she engages in. In 2018 she was elected as president of the South African Visual Arts Historians Association (SAVAH), and was elected to Chair the editorial board of the Taylor and Francis, DHET accredited journal, De Arte in October 2022. Between 2019- 2021 she served on the International Committee of the College Arts Association (USA).

She has received a number of academic and art awards, including the Maude Catherine Bird Scholarship (2000-2002), the E.J.A. Loerincz Scholarship (2002), The Standard Bank History of Art Award (2002), and her M.A.F.A. Cum Laude (2005). In 2003 Alison was a Finalist for The MTN New Contemporaries Art Award, and in 2004 she was awarded an artist’s residency in Switzerland. Alison was invited as artist in residence at the 2006 NEXT WAVE festival in Melbourne, Australia. She was awarded a competitive NRF Thuthukka Grant to the value of R300 000 for her doctoral research in 2012. In 2017 I received a prestigious College Art Association (CAA) Getty Foundation Travel Grant to participate in the 2018 CAA Conference and Pre-Conference Colloquium in Los Angeles in March 2018. She also received a distinguished Ampersand Fellowship to reside and do research in New York for the month of August 2018. Alison has been awarded an NRF C2 Rating from 2023. 

CV: Access here

Recent Publications:

Peer-reviewed Journal Articles

  • Kearney, A. (2022a) Infinite Mirror: Reflections on Wayne Barker’s Strategies of Appropriation. Critical Arts. Available online: ISI Accredited.
  •  Kearney, A. (2021c) Beyond the Everyday: Subtle forms of resistance in the work of Usha Seejarim. Third Text, 35 (5). Available online: ISI Accredited.
  • Kearney, A. (2017) Art history is dead; long live art history! de Arte 52 (3). London and Pretoria: Taylor and Francis and Unisa Press. Available online: DHET Accredited.
  • Kearney, A. (2016) Dismantling dichotomies: Alan Alborough’s material conceptualism, Image &Text, Issue 28, pages 59-75. Pretoria: University of Pretoria Press. ISSN-1020-1497. DHET Accredited.
  • Kearney, A. (2013) The framing of objects in Siopis’ Sympathetic Magic, de Arte 48 (2), pages 46- 62. Pretoria: Unisa Press. ISSN-0004-3389. DHET Accredited.

 Chapters in peer-reviewed books

  • Dison, L. and Kearney, A. (2021a) Trends in teaching and learning research in South African schools, in Maringe, F. Ed. Systematic Reviews of Research in Basic Education in South Africa. Stellenbosch: SUN Media, pages 145- 166.
  • Kearney, A. (2019) Trace and fracture: Legacies of the ‘readymade’ in contemporary South African art in Atteridge, J. and Rydstrand, H. Eds. (2019) Modernist Work: Labour, Aesthetics and the Avant-Garde. London: Bloomsbury.
  • Kearney, A. and Blanckenberg, L. (2015) Putting theory into practice: developing the Wits Art Museum Education resources in Nettleton, A.C.E. and de Becker, L. Eds. (2015) Activate / Captivate: Engaging the Wits Art Museum Collection, pages 65- 81. Johannesburg: Wits university press.

Chapters in non- peer reviewed books

  • Kearney, A. (2021b) ‘Confronting the Museum: Artists’ Interventions as Critique’ in Museum Futures, edited by Leonhard Emmerling, L. Gupta, L. Proença and M. Biwa. Austria: Turia and Kant, pages 472- 487.
  • Kearney, A. (2021a) ‘Materiality and Meaning’ in Seen, Heard and Valued: WAM Celebrates 40 Years of the Standard Bank African Art Collection, edited by Nettleton, A.C.E. and Charlton, J. Johannesburg: Wits Art Museum, pages 234-239.
  • Kearney, A. (2006) ‘The Unseen: A Visual Essay’ in Orr, M., Rorich, M and Dowling, F. (Eds.) The Wits Wonder Woman Book: Buttons and Breakfasts Johannesburg, Wits University Press.

Exhibition catalogues

  • Kearney, A. (2018) Beyond the Readymade: Exhibition catalogue. Johannesburg, Wits Art Museum. (Peer reviewed). 

Education Materials

  • Kearney, A., Charlton, J., Rankin-Smith, F., Nettleton, A.C.E., and Naran, K. (2022) TenX10: 100 Women and Gender Diverse Artists at WAM Education Resource. Johannesburg, Wits Art Museum.
  • Kearney, A. (2021c) Seen, Heard, Valued: An Education Resource About Art Collections and the Role of the Art Museum. Johannesburg, Wits Art Museum.
  • Kearney, A. (2019) Leeto: A Sam Nhlengethwa Print Making Retrospective Education Resource. Johannesburg, Wits Art Museum.
  • Kearney, A. (2018) Beyond the Readymade: Education Resource. Johannesburg, Wits Art Museum.
  • Kearney, A. (2017) Andy Warhol: Unscreened Education Resource. Johannesburg, Wits Art Museum.
  • Kearney, A. (2016) I invented myself: the five lives of Walter Battiss Education Resource. Johannesburg, Wits Art Museum.
  • Kearney, A. and Leyde, L. (2015) Beadwork, Art and the Body: Dilo tse Dintshi Education Resource. Johannesburg: Wits Art Museum.
  • Kearney, A. edited by Blanckenberg, L. (2014) Doing Hair Education Resource. Johannesburg: Wits Art Museum.
  • Kearney, A. (2013) Ngezinyawo: Migrant Journeys Education Resource. Johannesburg: Wits Art Museum.

Other publications

  • Alison Kearney & Annemi Conradie-Chetty, (2022) Editorial, Untold Stories: Material Narratives of Fragility, Grief and Healing de arte, 57:3, 1-3.
  • Annemi Conradie-Chetty & Alison Kearney (2022), Editorial, Untold Stories:
    (Re-)narrativising the past in the present through visual artmaking
    , de arte, 57:2, 1-2. DOI:10.1080/00043389.2022.2145765
  • Estelle McDowall, Leandra Koenig-Visagie, Leana van der Merwe, Obakeng Kgongoane & Alison Kearney(2021) Editorial, de arte, 56:1, 1-4, DOI: 1080/00043389.2022.2035122
  • Kearney, A. (2020) In the world: Essays on Contemporary South African Art by Ashraf Jamal: A book review. de Arte 55 (1). London and Pretoria: Taylor and Francis and Unisa Press. Available online at
  • Kearney, A. (2014) Entry on Penny Siopis in the Benezit Dictionary of Artists, Oxford Art Online,

Curated Exhibitions

2023: Encounters with the (I)material, curated by Alison Kearney, held at the Wits Art Museum, March- June 2023.

Matterings, curated by Gordon Froud and Alison Kearney, held at Gallery 2, Parkwood, Johannesburg, March- April, 2023.

2022: Romancing the Stone, curated by Ann-Marie Tully, Annemi Conradie-Chetty, Rachel Baasch and Alison Kearney, with assistance from Rina de Klerk, held at the KZNSA, Durban, 21 September- 23 October 2022.

2018: Beyond the Readymade, curated by Alison Kearney, held at the Wits Art Museum, 13    June- 9 September 2018. (Catalogue).

One Person Exhibitions

2008:   Alison Kearney: Put Something in to Take Something Out and Other Recent Works, The KZNSA Gallery, Durban, April- May 2008.

             Alison Kearney: Offerings, the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, January- February 2008.

2006:   About Context: An Exploration of Value in Four Parts, The Gallery Premises, Johannesburg   Civic Theatre, November 2006.

2005:   Alison Kearney: Works in Progress an experimental one-person exhibition at 24Seven Artist’s Run Space in Melbourne, Australia, December 2005.                    

             The Portable Hawkers Museum: A Retrospective, a one person Exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, February to March 2005.

2004:   Originalkopien (Authentic Replicas, a one-person installation at The Skulpturhalle, Basel, Switzerland, September 2004.

Portfolio of creative work

Detailed information of all group exhibitions and images and a bibliography of reviews of Alison’s creative work is available online at

Invited presentations and keynote addresses

2020: New Identities in Post-apartheid South African Art, invited guest lecture presentation, Faculty of  Arts at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, 4 February 2020. 

2017: Decolonising Looking in the Art Museum, a keynote presentation followed by an interactive workshop at the ACT/UJ #CreativeUprising conference, University of Johannesburg, July 2017.


International conference participation

2021: Intra-disciplinary Dialogues in the Museum: What can Curators Learn from Artists’ Practices? Round table discussion. I convened and chaired this discussion between Alison Kearney (Wits), Mpho Matsipa (Wits/WISER) and Sean Andersen (MoMA) for the 2021 CAA- Getty International Program CAA Conference session titled ‘Global Conversations V: A multiplicity of perspectives at the Museum of Modern Art, conversations with MoMA curators’, New York, February 2021.

2019: Confronting the Museum, paper and a plenary workshop presented at the Museum Conversations conference hosted by the Goethe Institut Namibia, Windhoek, September 2019.

2018: Found Objects in Contemporary African art, paper presented at the CAA Getty Conference Colloquium, The Getty Foundation, Los Angeles, February 2018.

2017: Border-crossing: Beadwork as Site of Exchange, presented at the 7th ECAS conference in Basel, June, 2017.  

2016: Trace and Fracture in Contemporary South African Art, presented at the third annual Australasian Modernist Studies Network conference held at the University of New South Wales, April 2016.

2014: The Thing is Thought provoking: Conceptual Materialism in the Work of Alan Alborough, presented at the 40th Anniversary conference of the Association of Art Historians at the Royal College of Art, London 12 April 2014.

2012: The Framing of Objects in Penny Siopis’ exhibition “Sympathetic Magic”. Paper presented at the EAM Material Meanings Conference at the University of Kent in September 2012.

National conference participation

2022: Toxic Cumulation exhibited on Cloud Matters, a group exhibition curated by Nokukhanya S. Khumalo, Liam Rothballer and Annemi Conradie- Chetty, on the occasion of The Digital Humanities in Precarious Times Conference, North West University, November 2022.

Monument for the Unheroic,  creative research presented as part of the Romancing the Stone exhibition, an event in the program for the 36th annual SAVAH conference, titled ‘Romancing the Stone: Lithic Ecologies and Hard Places in South African Visual Culture’, hosted by the Durban University of Technology, September 2022.

2021: Rupture and Futurism: New Narratives of African Art in the Work of Hilaire Balu Kuyangiko, paper presented at the 35th annual SAVAH conference titled ‘Untold Stories: Visual Narratives in Art and Design’, virtually hosted by North West University, September 2021.

 2018: Rethinking Cultural Appropriation: Wayne Barker’s Beadworks, paper presented at the 33rd annual SAVAH conference at Stellenbosch University, June 2018.

2017: Rethinking Cultural Appropriation in a Museum Space: Decolonising the FET Art History Curriculum, paper written with Dr. Alfred Masinire, who represented us at the 5th annual SAERA conference, October 2017. 

2016: Art History is Dead, Long Live Art History! Paper presented at the 31st annual SAVAH Conference, titled ‘Troubling Histories’ at UJ in July 2016. 

2012: Negotiating Practice: Reflections on a Collaborative Arts Project, paper co-written and co-presented with Theresa Giorza at the SAVAH Conference at UNISA in June 2012.

2010: On Breaking with the Everyday: Guided Adventures to Develop Critical Thinking and Academic Confidence amongst University Students, paper presented at the 4th Annual Conference on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education at UKZN in 2010.

 Alison’s artworks appear in the following collections:

  • Wits Art Museum (WAM), Wits University, Johannesburg