Steven Nelson


Ph.D. Harvard University, 1998
Phone 310-206-6905
Office Dodd Hall 212C
On leave until July 2020 as Andrew W. Mellon Professor at the Center for Advanced Study of the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


Steven Nelson is Professor of African and African American Art and Director of the UCLA African Studies Center. He is currently the Treasurer of the National Committee for the History of Art and a member of the General Assembly of the Comité international d’histoire de l’art, and a Contributing Editor to Grove Art Online. Professor Nelson was a former president of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association; served as member of the advisory board for the National Gallery’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA); and was Reviews Editor for Art Journal and the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. His book From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture In and Out of Africa (University of Chicago Press, 2007) has won multiple awards. His writings on the contemporary and historic arts, architecture and urbanism of Africa and its diasporas, African American art history, and queer studies have appeared in anthologies and exhibition catalogues as well as in African Arts, Architecture New York (ANY), Art Bulletin, Artforum, Art Journal, Documents, Journal of Homosexuality, Museums International, New Formations, and Politique Africaine. Professor Nelson has received numerous fellowships and visiting appointments. He is currently completing two new books titled, “Structural Adjustment: Mapping, Geography, and the Visual Cultures of Blackness,” and “On The Underground Railroad.”



  • “Nelson Mandela’s Two Bodies,” Transition, No. 116 (2014): 130-42.
  • Karmen Geï: Sex, the State and Censorship in Dakar,” African Arts, vol. 42, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 74-81.
  • “A Tale of Two Cities: The Films of Djibril Diop Mambety,” Artforum, vol. 47, no. 3 (November 2008): 306-11.
  • From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture in and out of Africa (book). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
  • “Collection and Context in a Cameroonian Village,” Museum International, no. 235 (September 2007), Paris: UNESCO/Blackwell: 22-30 (published in English, French, and Chinese).
  • “Turning Green into Black or How I Learned to Live with the Canon,” in Elizabeth Mansfield, ed. Making Art History: A Changing Discipline and its Institutions. London: Routledge, 2007, 54-66.
  • “Diaspora and Contemporary Art: Multiple Practices, Multiple Worldviews,” in Amelia Jones, ed., Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945 (Blackwell Companions to Art History). Oxford: Blackwell, 2006, 296-316.
  • “Transgressive Transcendence in the Photographs of Rotimi Fani-Kayode,” Art Journal, vol. 64, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 4-19.
  • “Freeman Murray and the Beginnings of an African American History of Art,” in Elizabeth Mansfield, ed. Art History and Its Institutions: Foundations of a Discipline. London: Routledge, 2002, 283-94.
  • New Histories. Co-editor with Lia Gangitano. Exhibition catalogue (edited volume). Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, 1996.



  • Introduction to the Arts of African (CE lecture course): Introduction to a the rich art and architectural history of the African continent, seeking at once to provide an overview of key themes in the arts and architecture of Africa as well as to discuss in a critical fashion what these forms reveal about social and cultural concerns more generally.
  • African Architecture (lecture): Examination of pertinent themes related to architecture and urbanism in Africa, investigating in a critical fashion what the built environment reveals about cultural, social and political issues more generally.
  • Contemporary Arts of Africa (lecture): Consideration of the ways in which modern and contemporary African artists negotiate a number of different themes in their respective practices as a means of understanding the complex and sometimes contradictory nature of contemporary African visual production.
  • African American Art (lecture): Overview of African American art from the dawn of the 20th century to the present, considers various themes utilized by American artists of African descent to understand the complex nature of African American art and representation.
  • Art Historical Theories and Methodologies (seminar): A critical examination of the history of disciplinary ideas within art history, including studies of theoretical, critical, and methodological approaches to the visual arts from antiquity to present.



  • Black Art and Black Power (seminar): An advanced seminar that examines African American art and criticism in the context of the Black Civil Rights stuggles of the 1960s and rise of Black Nationalism in the 1970s.
  • Eight Books on African American Art (seminar): An intensive reading semina focused on recent literature in African American art history. Students read a complete book each week, discussing the content, methodological foci, and the construction of a book length argument.
  • African Cinema (Seminar): An advanced seminar the explores the history, production, and reception of African Cinema with attention to their engagement with modernity and post-colonial life on the continent.
  • African Modernisms (Seminar): An advanced reading seminar focused on the formation of art and different modernisms and moderities on the African continent.
  • Art Historical Theories and Methodologies (Seminar): A critical examination of the history of disciplinary ideas within art history, including studies of theoretical, critical, and methodological approaches to the visual arts from antiquity to present.