“An Embodiment of Experience”: Steven Nelson on African Art and Writing History

“We think of ourselves as academics or intellectuals, or whatever label we want to use, ‘art historians’ with a capital ‘A’ and capital ‘H’—I think we’re also storytellers.”

in this episode

Caro Fowler speaks with Steven Nelson, who in March 2020 was named Dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, or CASVA. Prior to that appointment, Steven served as professor of African and African American art history at UCLA. Steven’s broad interests in design, travel, and histories of the African diaspora are reflected in his path toward a career in academia. Steven and Caro discuss how graduate education shaped Steven’s specialization in African and African American art, his writing practices, and his latest book project, which focuses on the Underground Railroad and American mythmaking. Steven also shares his hopes for his new position at CASVA and the future of the field of art history.


Steven Nelson has been Dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) since July 2020. Previously he was a professor at UCLA and directed the African Studies Center there and has also served as president of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association. In addition to his award-winning 2007 book, From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture In and Out of AfricaSteven’s 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 numerous anthologies, journals, and exhibition catalogues. 

This conversation was recorded on May 5, 2020.

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