Jessica R. Williams studies modern African art with an emphasis on the continent's histories of photography. Her dissertation, “A Working Woman's Eye: South African Photography and the Modernist Lens of Anne Fischer, 1937-50,” examines the work that Fischer, a German-Jewish refugee to Cape Town, produced in South Africa in the decade leading up to the advent of apartheid and in England following the Afrikaner Nationalists' rise to power. Through close attention to Fischer's photographs and their circulation, her project explores how this young Weimar woman mobilized German modernist aesthetics in her new colonial context and considers how her gendered experiences of exile inflected the work she produced in post-war London. Williams's research engages the intersections of modernist, feminist, and leftist histories and has been generously supported by grants and fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution, the Fulbright Program, and Harvard.

Williams earned her M.A. degrees in the History of Art and Architecture from Harvard (2016) and the University of Maryland, College Park (2013) and received a Certificate in Critical Theory from the latter's Department of English Graduate Studies (2014). She was awarded her B.A. in English and Art History and Criticism from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in 2010. She is currently based in Cape Town.