Back to top

Photograph of Nika Elder

Nika Elder Assoc Professor Department of Art

Nika Elder specializes in North American art from the colonial period to the present, including African-American art and the history of photography. Her current research and courses examine the mutually constitutive relationship between art and race throughout modern American history.

Her first book, William Harnett’s Curious Objects: Still-Life Painting after the American Civil War (forthcoming fall 2022, University of California Press), charts the politics of painting in the Gilded Age. A related research article, “William Harnett Shows His Hand,” appears in the spring 2016 issue of the Archives of American Art Journal.

She is currently at work on a new project that locates and interprets the work of 18th-century Anglo-American painter John Singleton Copley in the context of the transatlantic slave trade. Related research articles include "In the Flesh: John Singleton Copley's Royall Portraits and Whiteness" (Art History, November 2021) and "Enslaved Labor and Cultural Capital: A Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis of Copley's Colonial Patrons," co-authored with Diana Greenwald (Winterthur Portfolio, winter 2020).

In addition to these book projects, Prof. Elder has published essays on contemporary artists Lorna Simpson (Art Journal, spring 2018), Kara Walker, and Fred Wilson (The Routledge Companion to African American Art).

Her research has been supported by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 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.

Before coming to AU, Prof. Elder taught at the University of Florida, Vassar College, and Princeton University. She received her PhD and MA, with a certificate in Media and Modernity, from Princeton University, and BA in art history and studio art from Wellesley College.

For more on Prof. Elder's research and teaching, see

From 2022-2024, she is serving as Field Editor for American Art for, and she is chair of the 2023 Feminist Art History Conference at American University.
For the Media
To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.

Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Selected Publications


William Harnett’s Curious Objects: Still-Life Painting after the American Civil War (forthcoming fall 2022, University of California Press; available for pre-order at the link)

John Singleton Copley and the Circum-Atlantic (in progress)


"Art Institutions and Race in the Atlantic World, 1750-1850," co-edited with Catherine Roach and Daryle Williams, Commentaries section for American Art (forthcoming summer 2022)

“In the Flesh: John Singleton Copley’s Colonial Portraits and Whiteness,” Art History vol. 44, no. 5 (Nov. 2021), 948-977.

“Enslaved Labor and Cultural Capital: A Quantitative and Qualitative Analysis of Copley’s Colonial Portrait Commissions,” co-authored with Diana Greenwald, Winterthur Portfolio special issue on Enslavement and Its Legacies (winter 2020), pgs. 223-243.

“African-American Art and the White Cube,” Routledge Companion to African American Art History (London: Routledge, 2019), pgs. 337-348.

"Lorna Simpson’s Fabricated Truths," Art Journal (spring 2018), pgs. 30-53.

"William Harnett Shows His Hand," Archives of American Art Journal (spring 2016), pgs. 26-49.