Jessica Stephenson received a masters and doctorate in African art history from Emory University in 2006, with a minor in ancient Egyptian art and ancient American art. She received BA and BA Honors degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa in 1992 and 1993 with a dual major in art history and anthropology. Dr. Stephenson has pursued a two-pronged career as curator and academic. She worked in a number of museums including the Windhoek State Museum, Namibia and the Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa. In 2003 she was appointed as Associate Curator of African and Ancient American Art at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, and in 2009 was promoted to Curator of African Art. She has taught a wide range of non-western art history courses at the University of the Witwatersrand, Atlanta College of Art and Design, Bauder College, Emory University and at Kennesaw State University. She joins the School of Art and Design at KSU as full-time faculty in 2013.
Her research specialty is the emergence of novel art forms in contexts of rupture and change; transtextuality and intercultural arts; art, heritage and tourism; art and agency; and histories of museum collecting and display. These issues inform her research with rural art collectives in Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia and in archives and museum collections within the United States. She has curated many exhibitions including Spirited Vessels: the Ritual and Practice of African Ceramics (2004) and Divine Intervention: African Art and Religion (2011). Her current curatorial project in collaboration with the Smithsonian Museum for African Art is African Cosmos: Stellar Arts which is a component of the 2014 city-wide Atlanta-Africa program. She has presented papers at numerous venues including the College Art Association, and has published in several venues including most recently “Mirror Dance: Tourists, Artists, and First People Heritage in Botswana” which appears in the edited volume The Anthropology of Art/The Art of Anthropology, Newfound Press, 2013.