Meet Nolan Oswald Dennis, a young artist unimpressed by South Africa

nolan oswald dennis interview, Nolan Oswald Dennis

By Nomali Cele

Nolan Oswald Dennis (28) is part of a new breed of young artists not impressed with the state of this country. He works in illustration, painting, and installation, spreading the message of we have not forgotten. This has been a big year for Dennis with his first solo exhibition at the Goodman Gallery, winning the FNB Art Fair Prize and currently studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for his master of science in art, culture, and technology.

We caught up with Nolan Sowald Dennis via email and this is what he had to share:

Nomali Cele: Please, could you tell us about your background and the path you took to get into the art world?

Nolan Oswald Dennis: I am a South African born in Zambia, my family was in exile. I grew up in Midrand, I studied architecture at Wits. These places, along with Keleketla Library and VANSA, these are all very important places I call home. My path has mostly consisted of leaving these places, sharing ideas, energy and work with small groups of people that I trust. Friends whose work helps make sense of the difficult world. Always working together and, especially, putting energy into projects that we care deeply about. The art world is something else, my world is constructed out of solidarity, impatience and a determination to change it.

Nomali Cele: Memory is a recurring theme in your work, why do you think it’s important to remember in the South African context?

Nolan Oswald Dennis: Imagine that all history is built on forgetting. Zero. And then Africa is, supposedly, a continent without history. Double zero. Paradoxically, Africa is also, supposedly, the cradle of all humankind. A reversal. And Africans belong to the historical category of the subhuman. A counteraction… History is a construct of power, and we have not had the power to construct anything for a very long time. I’m interested in memory because, in spite of this game, it survives, and we survive along with it.

Nomali Cele:  You are dedicated when it comes to calling out, or shining a light on what you’ve termed “social fictions” (i.e the rainbow nation) what larger conversation are you hoping to start if any at all with your work?

Nolan Oswald Dennis: I think we’ve reached the end of a particular social contract, we are in a time of radical non-fiction. We are forced to see ourselves as we really are. This is happening all around the world, from Trump to Brexit, to Brazil, to our own drama at home. The oversaturation of dreams was a mask for the extreme inequality being entrenched globally (racial, gender, economic, geopolitical), but this mask is failing.

It seems, there are no stories to believe in anymore, both the problem and its solution are equally unappealing. At the moment I’m reading Ali Mazrui’s Pax Africana and it feels like the more radically honest we become, the closer it appears as fictional space. African lives have never been fully accepted as real and so as we grow into a self-consciousness (black consciousness) we enter an unreality of being, we are the people who live somewhere besides the dream.

Nomali Cele: Do you think there’s a clearer path to practicing as an artist than there was, say, five years ago?

Nolan Oswald Dennis: I really wouldn’t know; I think every historical moment produces conditions against which artists must struggle.

Nomali Cele: You won the 2016 FNB Art Fair prize. What do prizes, beyond accolades, mean for young artists like yourself?

Nolan Oswald Dennis: There is sadness behind all prizes, their meaning is always ambiguous. The young South African writer Masande Ntshanga recently wrote on Twitter “Probably the saddest thing about the Nobel Prize for Literature is how artists have been made to earnestly care about prizes, I think.”

Nomali Cele: Does art mean as much as those who love it think it does, especially in South Africa where it happens three taxis – at most – away from the average South African?

Nolan Oswald Dennis: I think contemporary art can only mean something within its own self-policed limits. This is why the task of many artists from places like ours is to break out of the boundaries of art as a discipline, a market, a lifestyle commodity and an academic field. Art means much more than it is allowed to mean.

Nomali Cele: Who are the young artists you believe the world should look out for?

Nolan Oswald Dennis: My family: Bogosi Sekhukhuni, Tabita Rezaire, Lisolomzi Pikoli, also Mbali Khoza, FAKA, CUSS group

Read more culture coverage from us by clicking here

    Don’t miss out on the latest local news, interviews and competitions.

    Don’t miss out on the latest local news, interviews and competitions.

    More Articles
    Receive the latest news

    Subscribe To Our Newsletter



    Copyright Notice


    1.1 The contents of this Website, including but not limited to its compilation and arrangement, is the exclusive property of Kaya 959, alternatively the suppliers of content to Kaya 959, and accordingly remain protected by South African and International Copyright and Trademark laws.

    1.2 Any person accessing this Website, may not, save for downloading one copy for their personal computers and solely for their private and non-commercial use :

    1.2.1 Copy, disseminate, distribute, advertise, publish, adapt, modify or in any way reproduce the contents of this website for commercial purposes, unless this notice and any disclaimer attached thereto is published in its entirety, or unless the permission of Kaya 959 is obtained in writing.

    Competition Terms and Conditions

    • The competitions are open to all persons over the age of 18 years; except directors, partners, employees, agents, service providers, and consultants of Kaya 959, the sponsor and all its subsidiaries and its holding company, if any, as well as all spouses, life partners, parents, children, siblings, business partners and associates of such persons.

    • The outcome of the competition is subject to the decision of the judge/presenter, whose decision is final and no negotiation will be entered into thereafter. Neither Kaya 959, sponsors nor their agents will be held responsible or answerable to any dispute arising from the competition or prize awards.

    • Participants/listeners enter or take part in competitions at their own risk and Kaya 959 bears no responsibility for any loss, damage or harm suffered as a result of participation in any of Kaya 959 competition.

    • One listener is entitled to winning one prize in a period of 3 months. Kaya 959 reserves the right not to award a prize if the listener has won a prize prior during the 3 month window period. This also applies to listeners who provide family or friend’s contact details.

    • Kaya 959 reserves the right to redistribute all unclaimed prizes if not claimed after 3 months after being given away On Air or on the website.

    • Prizes are not transferable and may not be exchanged for cash.

    • Finalists will forfeit their participation in the competition if they fail to attend the draws.

    • The competition will run during the period advertised on Kaya 959; entries received outside of the competition period will not be considered for the competition draw.

    • Kaya 959 and their sponsors reserve the right to cancel, modify or amend the competition at any time if deemed necessary in their opinion, or if circumstances arise outside of their control.

    • By entering the competition, entrants agree to accept these rules and to be bound by them.

    Privacy Policy


    POPIA ActTo promote the protection of personal information processed by public and private bodies; to introduce certain conditions so as to establish minimum requirements for the processing of personal information; to provide for the establishment of an Information Regulator to exercise certain powers and to perform certain duties and functions in terms of this Act and the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000; to provide for the issuing of codes of conduct; to provide for the rights of persons regarding unsolicited electronic communications and automated decision making; to regulate the flow of personal information across the borders of the Republic; and to provide for matters connected therewith.


    • section 14 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, provides that everyone has the right to privacy;
    • the right to privacy includes a right to protection against the unlawful collection, retention, dissemination and use of personal information;
    • the State must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights;


    • consonant with the constitutional values of democracy and openness, the need for economic and social progress, within the framework of the information society, requires the removal of unnecessary impediments to the free flow of information, including personal information;


    • regulate, in harmony with international standards, the processing of personal information by public and private bodies in a manner that gives effect to the right to privacy subject to justifiable limitations that are aimed at protecting other rights and important interests,
    1. Definitions and Interpretation

    1.1.“Personal Information” means information relating to an identifiable, living, natural person and where it is applicable, identifiable, existing juristic person, including all information as defined in the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013. 

    1.2  Parliament assented to POPIA on 19 November 2013. The commencement date of section 1Part A of Chapter 5section 112 and section 113 was 11 April 2014. The commencement date of the other sections was 1 July 2020 (with the exception of section 110 and 114(4). The President of South Africa has proclaimed the POPI commencement date to be 1 July 2020.

    1.3. “Processing” means the creation, generation, communication, storage, destruction of personal information as more fully defined in the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013.  

    1.4. “You” or the “user” means any person who accesses and browses this website for any purpose. 

    1.4. “Website” means the website of the KAYA 959 at URL www.kaya959.co.za or such other URL as KAYA 959 may choose from time to time.   

    1. Status and Amendments

    2.1. KAYA 959 respects your privacy. This privacy policy statement sets out KAYA 959’s information gathering and dissemination practices in respect of the Website. 

    2.2. This Privacy Policy governs the processing of personal information provided to KAYA 959 through your use of the Website. 

    2.3. Please note that, due to legal and other developments, KAYA 959 may amend these terms and conditions from time to time.  

    1. Processing of Personal Information

    3.1. By providing your personal information to KAYA 959 you acknowledge that it has been collected directly from you and consent to its processing by KAYA 959. 

    3.2. Where you submit Personal Information (such as name, address, telephone number and email address) via the website (e.g. through completing any online form) the following principles are observed in the processing of that information: 

    3.2.1. KAYA 959 will only collect personal information for a purpose consistent with the purpose for which it is required. The specific purpose for which information is 
    collected will be apparent from the context in which it is requested. 

    3.2.2. KAYA 959 will only process personal information in a manner that is adequate, relevant and not excessive in the context of the purpose for which it is processed. 

    3.2.3. Personal information will only be processed for a purpose compatible with that for which it was collected, unless you have agreed to an alternative purpose in writing or KAYA 959 is permitted in terms of national legislation of general application dealing primarily with the protection of personal information. 

    3.2.4. KAYA 959 will keep records of all personal Information collected and the specific purpose for which it was collected for a period of 1 (one) year from the date on which it was last used. 

    3.2.5. KAYA 959 will not disclose any personal information relating to you to any third party unless your prior written agreement is obtained or KAYA 959 is required to do so by law. 

    3.2.6. If personal information is released with your consent KAYA 959 will retain a record of the information released, the third party to which it was released, the reason for the release and the date of release, for a period of 1 (one) year from the date on which it was last used. 

    3.2.7. KAYA 959 will destroy or delete any personal information that is no longer needed by KAYA 959 for the purpose it was initially collected, or subsequently processed. 

    3.3. Note that, as permitted by the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002, KAYA 959 may use personal information collected to compile profiles for statistical purposes. No information contained in the profiles or statistics will be able to be linked to any specific user.    

    1. Collection of anonymous data

    4.1. KAYA 959 may use standard technology to collect information about the use of this website. This technology is not able to identify individual users but simply allows KAYA 959 to collect statistics. 

    4.2. KAYA 959 may utilise temporary or session cookies to keep track of users’ browsing habits. A cookie is a small file that is placed on your hard drive in order to keep a record of your interaction with this website and facilitate user convenience. 

    4.2.1. Cookies by themselves will not be used to identify users personally but may be used to compile identified statistics relating to use of services offered or to provide KAYA 959 with feedback on the performance of this website. 

    4.2.2. The following classes of information may be collected in respect of users who have enabled cookies: The browser software used; IP address; Date and time of activities while visiting the website; URLs of internal pages visited; and referrers. 

    4.3. If you do not wish cookies to be employed to customize your interaction with this website it is possible to alter the manner in which your browser handles cookies. Please note that, if this is done, certain services on this website may not be available. 

    1. Security

    5.1. KAYA 959 takes reasonable measures to ensure the security and integrity of information submitted to or collected by this website, but cannot under any circumstances be held liable for any loss or other damage sustained by you as a result of unlawful access to or dissemination of any personal information by a third party. 

    1. Links to other websites

    6.1. KAYA 959 has no control over and accepts no responsibility for the privacy practices of any third party websites to which hyperlinks may have been provided and KAYA 959 strongly recommends that you review the privacy policy of any website you visit before using it further. 

    1. Queries

    7.1. If you have any queries about this privacy policy please contact us by emailing [email protected]