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John Peffer

Ramapo ArchProfessor of Art History

Year Joined RCNJ: 2009

Contact Information

  • Phone: (201) 684-6223
  • Email:
  • Office: A-201
  • Office Hours: Tues 11:45-1:45 AM

B.A. Indiana University, Bloomington
M.A., M. Phil., Ph.D. Columbia University, NY

Professor Peffer is a specialist in modern African art and photography. He is a past President of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association, the author of Art and the End of Apartheid (2009) and co-editor of Photography and Portraiture in Africa (2013). Dr. Peffer’s research has examined the historiography of African Art History, art and visual culture in South Africa during apartheid, and general issues of global modernity and human rights in art, photography, and visuality. Recent writing has explored issues of privacy, ethics, and legal rights with respect to photography and self-images. During 2013-2015 he conducted research in South Africa on Fulbright CIES and National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships, and that work is the basis of his current hybrid academic/creative projects.

Peffer’s essays have appeared in Cabinet, Visual Anthropology Review, Third Text, African Arts, RES, Art Journal, Africultures, and Rethinking Marxism, and in the exhibition anthologies Looking Both Ways (Museum for African Art, 2003) and Through African Eyes (Detroit Institute of Arts, 2010). He was co-curator in 2000 of Translation/ Seduction/ Displacement: Post-Conceptual and Photographic Work by Artists from South Africa (New York, White Box), and in 2015 of Think of Number 6 (Stellenbosch and Johannesburg, South Africa). In 2007 he was a founding editor of the interdisciplinary journal Critical Interventions: Journal of African Art History and Visual Culture.

Peffer’s book, Art and The End of Apartheid was a Finalist for the African Studies Association Melville Herskovits Book Award in 2010. Other awards include American Council of Learned Societies, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, and Clark Art Institute fellowships, an Andy Warhol Foundation/Creative Capital Arts Writers’ Grant, Fulbright IIE awards, the College Art Association Millard Meiss book prize, and an American Philosophical Society award for archival research.

Courses Offered:
First Year Seminar, “The medium is the message”
Studies in Arts and Humanities, “Creativity and Destruction”
Introduction to Global Art Traditions
Introduction to African Art
Photography History and Concepts
Africa and Cinema
Photography and Africa
Performance and Art
Contemporary Global Art Since 2000

Selected Awards:
-National Gallery of Art Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts Paul Mellon Visiting Senior Fellow, May-July 2021.
-Metropolitan Museum of Art Sylvan C. Coleman and Pam Coleman Memorial Fund Fellow, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, March-August 2019.
-American Council of Learned Societies Fellow, September 2018-March 2019.
-Visiting Scholar, Columbia University Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, September 2018-February 2019 (in residence), and June-December 2019.
-Fulbright CIES Grant for research and teaching in South Africa, 2015.
-National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for research on photography in South Africa, 2014.
-Visiting Researcher, Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER), Johannesburg, April 2014-December 2015.
-Honorary Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Art, Design, and Architechture, University of Johannesburg, 2015.
-Swiss National Science Foundation Visiting Scholar, Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Basel, November-December 2013.
-Fellow-in-residence, Clark Art Institute, Spring 2013.

-Art and the End of Apartheid (University of Minnesota Press, 2009)
-Phonotype (Ramapo College Art Galleries, 2012)
­-Co-Edited with Elisabeth Cameron, Photography and Portraiture in Africa (Indiana University Press, 2013)

Selected Essays:
“’Maybe he thought I was dead.’ A tale of moral rights and image ethics in South Africa,” in Ysolde Gendreau, ed., Research Handbook on Intellectual Property And Moral Rights (Edward Elgar, in press, 2022).
“How do We Look?” Kronos (Cape Town), special issue on “The Other Lives of the Image,” 46(1) 2020.
–“Vernacular Recollections and Popular Photography in South Africa,” in Christopher Morton and Darren Newbury, eds., The African Photographic Archive: Research and Curatorial Strategies (London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015).
–“L’image que la diaspora dans l’art africain,” in Revue Multitudes 53 (Autumn 2013) p. 47-58.
[French translation of Peffer, “Africa’s Diasporas of Images” Third Text 19 (4) 2005]
“Remarks on South African Photography and the Extraphotographic,” Africultures 88 (Spring 2012).
“Snap of the Whip/ Crossroads of Shame: Flogging, Photography, and the Representation of Atrocity in the Congo Reform Campaign,” Visual Anthropology Review 24 (1) 2008.
“Censorship and iconoclasm–unsettling monuments,” RES 48 (Autumn 2005).

Selected Creative, Curatorial, and Hybrid projects:
–“Notes on Cuts on Censored Records,” Afrikadaa (special issue, Politics of Sound), #10 (2016).
Think of Number 6 — an exhibition, dialogues, and performance events in South Africa (2014-2015)

Current Work:
-Hybrid text/audio: Liner Notes on Cuts. An LP record and booklet, in production for 2022 with sound art curator Bhavisha Panchia, based on my archival research into collections of audio recordings censored by state broadcasters in South Africa during apartheid.
-Book: Sample Album/ How do we Look? Book manuscript completed, publisher pending.
-Book: Remembering (the time of) Apartheid with Dignity: Family Photography in South Africa. Research completed, book manuscript in preparation.

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