O’Connell’s research focus falls within three areas, that of visual studies, memory and restorative justice in postcolonial and post-apartheid South Africa.

Siona O’Connell is a BIARI (Brown International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI) alumnus, award-winning scholar, curator and film-maker, and is one of a small number of black women to head a research institute in South Africa.



Siona O’Connell was educated at the University of Cape Town (UCT) where she studied fine art, receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts (2006), Master of Arts in African Studies (2008) and Doctor of Philosophy in African Studies (2012). She was a Trilateral Reconnections Project Fellow at Brown University in the US and is a BIARI (Brown International Advanced Research Institutes) alumnus.

Until recently she was the Director of the Centre for Curating the Archive (CCA) at UCT and is one of the few black women in South Africa to head a research unit.

Her books include the poetry of anti-apartheid writer, James Matthews, and the photographs of Sophia Klaase in Namaqualand, South Africa. Siona’s six film documentaries consider the South African ruling party, the ANC, the clothing industry of the Western Cape, forced removals, drag pageants and street photography.

She has over ten years of experience of working with study-abroad students in Cape Town and one of her undergraduate courses, Images in Conflict: Power, Politics and Propaganda, is one of the most popular direct enrolment courses at UCT.


"O'Connell's work around archives and curation seeks to shift frames from aesthetics to restorative justice to open up questions around representation, freedom, trauma and memory in the aftermath of oppression."