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SARChI Research Chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa, Rhodes University

Ruth Simbao is the National Research Foundation SARChI Chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa and a Professor in the Fine Art Department at Rhodes University, South Africa. She runs the Arts of Africa and Global Souths research programme, which comprises the SARChI Chair programme funded by the National Research Foundation, and the PROSPA programme (Publishing and Research of the South: Positioning Africa) funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She founded the Art POWA network ( in 2017.

Simbao received her PhD from Harvard University’s Department of History of Art and Architecture in 2008, and was an American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) postdoctoral fellow as part of the Humanities in Africa programme in 2010. In 2002 she received a Harvard University Teaching Award as a Teaching Fellow, and was the recipient of the Vice-Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award at Rhodes University in 2009.

Her recent research interests include contemporary art with a particular focus on Africa, the geopolitics of art and society, geopolitics in relation to biennialisation, ‘strategic southernness’ and the global south, theories of ‘place’, contra-flow diasporas, cosmolocalism, redefinitions of ‘the local’, the power of small spaces, modest gestures, faux pas and failures, artists’ responses to xenophobia, Africa–China relations and the arts, contemporary cultural festivals and globalisation, performance theory and site-situational art, a geopolitics of knowledge, sideways learning as a form of decoloniality, and the orientation of discourse.

Recent curatorial projects include Converge at the National Arts Festival with Brunn Kramer (2018), Consuming Us at the Cape Town Art Fair with Azu Nwagbogu (2016), SLIP (2014), the performance art programme BLIND SPOT at the National Arts Festival (2014), and Making Way: Contemporary Art from South Africa and China at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg (2013) and the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (2012) (

Simbao has presented her work in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Canada, the USA, France, Jamaica, China, New Zealand, Australia and Poland, and her work has been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish and Mandarin. In 2016 Simbao joined the editorial consortium of the African Arts journal that is associated with UCLA and distributed by MIT Press.


  • –present
    SARChI Research Chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa, Rhodes University


  • 2008 
    Harvard University , PhD in Art History

Grants and Contracts

  • 2018
    SARChI Research Chair in Geopolitics and the Arts of Africa
    Funding Source:
    National Research Foundation