Elizabeth Harney

Elizabeth Harney History of Art Faculty


Associate Professor

Elizabeth Harney’s research focuses on global modernisms, contemporary art practices in Africa and its diasporas, postcolonial theory, and the politics of exhibition. Her first book, In Senghor’s Shadow (Duke 2004) investigated the contours of Senegalese modernism and Negritude philosophy and received the prestigious Arnold Rubin Book Award. She edited Ethiopian Passages: Contemporary Art from the Diaspora (National Museum of African Art and Philip Wilson Publishers, 2003). Her current book project, supported by a Social Science Research Grant, looks at notions of cosmopolitanism with the field of art history, particularly as they pertain to African artists.

Harney was the first curator of contemporary arts at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution (1999-2003). She recently co-curated Inscribing Meaning: African Arts of Writing and Inscription, held at the Smithsonian and the UCLA Fowler Museum in Los Angeles (Five Continents Press, 2007). Harney is on the editorial boards of African Arts and NkA: Journal of Contemporary African Art.

A.B. Harvard University 

M.A. University of Washington 

M.Phil, University of London 

Ph.D. School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

Research interests
Modernisms, word and image paradigms, cosmopolitanism, historiographies of African arts, inter-cultural art criticism, collecting, and curating

Recent Publications
Inscribing Meaning: African Arts of Writing and Inscription, co-edited with Christine Mullen Kreamer, Polly Nooter Roberts, and Allyson Purpura (National Museum of African Art/UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History) Five Continents Press, 2007.

In Senghor’s Shadow: Art, Politics, and the Avant-Garde in Senegal, 1960-1995. Duke University Press, 2004.

Editor, Ethiopian Passages: Dialogues in the Diaspora. National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, 2003

“Stories of Avant-gardism and Postcolonial Resonances” New Literary History (forthcoming 2010).
“Beyond the Alternative Modernisms model” special edited volume by Salah Hassan, The South Atlantic Quarterly (forthcoming 2009).
 “Cosmopolitan Narratives: African artists in Europe in a Post-Black Age” in New Geographies in Contemporary African Art (forthcoming African Studies, Harvard University, 2009).
“Apertures, Exhibitionary Complexes, and the Reflexivity of Contemporary African Photography” NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art (Africana Studies Center, Cornell University) (Spring 2008).
“Exhibiting Contemporary African Arts: Roundtable of Curators” NkA: Journal of Contemporary African Art (Africana Studies Center, Cornell University) (Spring 2008).
“Inscribing Meaning: African Arts of Writing and Inscription: Exhibition Preview” co-authored with Mary Nooter Roberts, Christine M. Kreamer, Allyson Purpura. African Arts 40, 3 (Fall 2007).
“Canon Fodder: The Battles over contemporary African Arts,” in Art Journal 66, 2 (Summer 2007)
“Les arts premiers in Paris: le monument de l’autre” (First Word) in African Arts 39, 2 (Spring 2007)
“Paris Primitive: Jacque Chirac’s Museum,” Book review, African Arts (forthcoming Spring 2009).
“Continuity and Change: Three Generations of Ethiopian Artists,” African Arts (Summer 2008).
“Mediating Africanité: Beaux Arts and the Modern Artist in 1960s Senegal: A Comment,” in African Arts 39, 1 (Spring 2006)

Principal’s Research Award, University of Toronto Scarborough (2008)
Arnold Rubin Outstanding Publication Award (African Studies Association, 2007)

SSHRC Grant (2004-2007) 

Millard Meiss Publication Fund Award (College Art Association, 2005)
Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Award (2002-2003) 

Kellogg Foundation Award (2001) 

Postdoctoral Fellowship, New York University (1996-1999) 

Commonwealth Graduate Fellowship (1992-1995) 

Curatorial Work 

National Museum of African Art, International Art Museums Division
Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC (1999-2003) 

Curator, Contemporary Arts

Art Critical Writings
«Ananias Léki Dago » in Flow (New York: Studio Museum of Art, April 2008).
“Excess and Economy: Thoughts on the Recent Works of El Anatsui” published in conjunction with Zebra Crossings, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York City, forthcoming 2009.
Editor, Flava: Ten Years of Wedge Curatorial Projects. Published in conjunction with CONTACT 2007.  Toronto, Ontario, 2007.
“Visual Poetry and Alternate Literacies: The Languages of Fathi Hassan” in Fathi Hassan-Safir. Urbino, Italy, June 2007.