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Nika Elder Assistant Professor Department of Art

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Nika Elder specializes in North American art from the colonial period to the present, including African-American art and the history of photography. She is particularly interested in the politics of art that looks distinctly apolitical. Her current research and courses examine the mutually constitutive relationship between art and race throughout modern American history.

Prof. Elder is at work on a book about still-life painter William Harnett and the possibilities and impossibilities of history painting in the wake of the American Civil War. A related research article, “William Harnett Shows His Hand,” appears in the spring 2016 issue of the Archives of American Art Journal.

Two articles in progress explore the relationship between art and race in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. “Lorna Simpson’s Fabricated Truths” (forthcoming Winter 2017, Art Journal) examines the contemporary artist’s earliest photographic series and the ways in which it interceded into popular depictions of slavery in Reagan-era America. Prof. Elder is also working on a project about John Singleton Copley’s colonial portraits and their significance within the context of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

This research has been supported by Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, the Wyeth Foundation, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, as well as the Department of Art and Archaeology and the Program in American Studies, among other entities, at Princeton.

In spring/summer 2018, Prof. Elder will be on leave as Chester Dale Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Before coming to AU, Prof. Elder taught at the University of Florida, Vassar College, and Princeton University. She received her Ph.D. and M.A., with a certificate in Media and Modernity, from Princeton University, and B.A. in art history and studio art from Wellesley College.
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Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Selected Publications

William Harnett and the Afterlife of History Painting (manuscript in progress)

“John Singleton Copley and Concerns of the Flesh” (in progress)

Lorna Simpson’s Fabricated Truths,” Art Journal (forthcoming winter 2017)


“William Harnett Shows His Hand, ” Archives of American Art Journal (Spring 2016), pgs. 26-49