PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University

Portrait of Jessica R. Williams, 2020.
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About

Jessica R. Williams studies modern African art history with an emphasis on the continent's histories of photography. Her dissertation, “A Working Woman's Eye: South African Photography and the Modernist Lens of Anne Fischer, 1937-50,” examines the work that Fischer, a German-Jewish refugee to Cape Town, produced in South Africa in the decade leading up to the advent of apartheid and in England following the Afrikaner Nationalists' rise to power. Through close attention to Fischer's photographs and their circulation, her project explores how this young Weimar woman mobilized German modernist aesthetics in her new colonial context and considers how her gendered experiences of exile inflected the work she produced in post-war London. Williams's research engages the intersections of modernist, feminist, and leftist histories and has been generously supported by grants and fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution, the Fulbright Program, and Harvard.

Williams earned her MA degrees in the History of Art and Architecture from Harvard (2016) and the University of Maryland, College Park (2013) and received a Certificate in Critical Theory from the latter's Department of English Graduate Studies (2014). She was awarded her BA in English and Art History and Criticism from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in 2010. She is currently based in Cape Town.

Portrait of Anne Fischer, ca. 1935-6.
Anne Fischer, ca. 1935-36.

Publications

2020

Cover of October journal issue 173.

“A Pariah Among Parvenus: Anne Fischer and the Politics of South Africa’s New Realism(s)”

October 173 (Summer 2020): 143-175.

2020

Cover of Women and Photography in Africa: Creative Practices and Feminist Challenges.

“A Working Woman’s Eye: Anne Fischer and the South African Photography of Weimar Women in Exile.”

In Women and Photography in Africa: Creative Practices and Feminist Challenges, edited by Darren Newbury, Lorena Rizzo, and Kylie Thomas, 23-44. Abingdon: Routledge, 2020.

2018

Cover of Analog Culture: Printer’s Proofs from the Schneider/Erdman Photography Lab, 1981-2001.

“Printing and the Urgency of Translation: Peter Hujar, David Wojnarowicz, and the Task of Schneider/Erdman, Inc.”

In Analog Culture: Printer’s Proofs from the Schneider/Erdman Photography Lab, 1981-2001, edited by Jennifer Quick, 38-63. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Art Museums, 2018.

2017

VoCA Journal - Jessica Williams and Gary Schneider.

“Building, Performing, and Translating the Negative: The Working Relationships of Schneider/Erdman, Inc.”

Jessica Williams and Gary Schneider, VoCA Journal. Web-based publication.

2017

Cover of Art of Jazz exhibition catalog.

“On NOTES: A Conversation.”

Jessica Williams and Vera Ingrid Grant, in The Art of Jazz: Form/Performance/Notes, edited by David Bindman, Suzanne Preston Blier, and Vera Ingrid Grant, 34-39. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2017.

Curriculum Vitae

Education

2014 - Present

PhD, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University

2016

MA, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University

2014

Certificate in Critical Theory, University of Maryland-College Park, Department of English Graduate Studies

2013

MA, Art History and Archeology, University of Maryland-College Park

2010

BA with Honors, English, Art History and Criticism, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Fellowships, grants and awards

2019 - 2020

Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellowship, National Museum of African Art, Washington, D. C.

2018 - 2019

Fulbright Research Award, Cape Town, South Africa

2017 - 2018

Arthur Kingsley Porter Traveling Fellowship, History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University

2017

Graduate Society Summer Pre-Dissertation Research Fellowship, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

2017

Graduate Student Council Conference Grant, Harvard University

2016

Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS) for Advanced study of Zulu, Cape Town, South Africa

2013

Graduate Fellowship in Nigerian Visual Art and Culture for Non-Nigerian Scholars at Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF), Lagos, Nigeria

2013

Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS) for Intermediate study of Zulu, Durban, South Africa

2011

Robert H. and Clarice Smith Doctoral Fellowship, Art History and Archeology Department, University of Maryland-College Park

Conferences, symposiums, and colloquia

2020

“From Berlin to Cape Town: New Realism and the South African Photography of Anne Fischer,” A Foreign Eye: Interwar European Photographers Abroad. The Association for Art History’s (AAH) 46th Annual Conference, Newcastle University & Northumbria University, England. (Conference canceled)

2019

“The Path to Apartheid: Anne Fischer, Constance Stuart Larrabee, and the Politics of South Africa’s New Realism(s),” Women Photographers Lecture Series, Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C.

2018

“Langa in a Hard, Merciless Light: A Working Woman’s Eye and an Early Documentary Ethos, 1937-1941,” Center for African Studies Graduate Student Colloquium, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

2018

“An Unsentimental Lens: Anne Fischer and the South African Photography of a Weimar Woman in Exile,” Indexing Transformation: Interventions in Critical Knowledge Production in South Africa, hosted by the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

2017

“Boring Pictures of Uninteresting Things: Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s The Polaroid Revolutionary Workers. The Politics of Abstract and Conceptual African and African Diasporic Art, Panel Chair. The Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA) 17th Triennial Symposium on African Art, University of Accra, Ghana.

2016

“Whitfield Lovell’s Servilis: Photography and the African American Women’s Club Movement,” The Art Of Jazz: Form/Performance/Notes symposium, hosted by the Hutchins Center in correspondence with the Ethelbert Cooper Gallery of African & African American Art, Harvard University.

2015

Discussant, Nandipha Mntambo’s The Flight, an original performance commissioned for and debuted at the third event in Harvard University’s Black History/Art History lecture and performance series.

2014

“Perceiving the Foreign: Images of African Diasporic Identities by Thandile Zwelibanzi and Ade Adekola.” African Photography/Diasporas. The Arts Council of the African Studies Association (ACASA) 16th Triennial Symposium on African Art, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

2013

“Imaging the Gap: Dissensus and Belonging in Thandile Zwelibanzi’s Still Existence.” Revolution 3.0: Iconographies of Social Utopia in Africa and its Diasporas. Iwalewa-Haus, Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, University of Bayreuth, Germany.

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