Suzanne Blier

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Suzanne Preston Blier
SBlier BW.png
Born Burlington, Vermont, United States
Nationality American
Education University of Vermont
Columbia University
Occupation Art Historian

Suzanne Preston Blier is an American art historian who currently serves as Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She is also a member of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Her work focuses primarily on African art, architecture, and culture.


Blier's interest in African art began when she served as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1969 to 1971 in Savé, a Yoruba center in Dahomey (now Benin Republic).[1]

She began her professorial career at Vassar College serving as a lecturer from 1979 to 1981. She then spent the following years at Northwestern University as an assistant professor. In 1983, she began work at her alma mater, Columbia University as an assistant and associate professor before taking a position as a full-time professor. In 1988, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. She remained at Columbia until 1993, subsequently transferring to teach at Harvard University.

Her 1987 book, The Anatomy of Architecture: Ontology and Metaphor in Batammaliba Architectural Expression, won the 1989 Arnold Rubin Outstanding Publication Award presented by ACASA (Arts Council of the African Studies Association).[2] Her 1995 book titled African Vodun: Art, Psychology, and Power won the 1997 Charles Rufus Morey Book Prize awarded by the College Art Association for an outstanding publication in art history.[3] Her 2004 book, Butabu: Adobe Architecture of West Africa, with photographs by James Morris, was named a “Best of Year” book selection by the Washington Post and was selected by the New York Times Book Review for inclusion in its Holiday Selection that year. Another of Blier’s books, The Royal Arts of Africa, a Choice Award winner, has been translated into five languages and is a leading textbook in the field; it was reissued in 2012. In 2010, two of her articles, "Imaging Otherness in Ivory: African Portrayals of the Portuguese ca. 1492"[4] and "Kings, Crowns and Rights of Succession: Obalufon Arts in Ife and Other Yoruba Centers"[5] were selected for inclusion in The Centennial Anthology of the Art Bulletin comprising the 33 top articles over the journal’s 100 year history. Blier was one of only three art historians (along with Meyer Shapiro and Leo Steinberg) to have two articles included. In 2014 Blier published an essay on the importance of African Art in the Art Museum titled "Art Matters."

Blier's interests in mapping led to the creation of the electronic media project, Baobab: Sources and Studies in African Visual Culture (also known as "The Baobab Project").[6] This project was established at Harvard in 1993 and funded by the Seaver Institute. It represented "one of the largest academic studies of African art."[7] The interactive website included images and an ethnographic database based on GIS, along with narrative-form case studies framed around the questions concerning the social roots of creativity. Topics included the coexistence of traditional art and Islam, African political expansion in relation to style, and art variables in the ancient Yoruba city-state.

This Baobab Project led to the creation of AfricaMap in 2007, a website that seeks to bring together the best available cartographic data on the continent in an interactive GIS format.[8] In 2011, the AfricaMap website, housed at Harvard's Center for Geographic Research, was expanded into WorldMap along with an array of other map types.[9]

For a profile of Blier's career see "Facing African Art." [10]


Blier attended Burlington High School. She received her B.A. in art history from the University of Vermont in 1973. She later received her M.A. (1976) and Ph.D. in art history and archaeology (1981), both from Columbia University.


  • Beauty and Beast: A Study in Contrasts, 1976, ISBN 1253299854
  • Africa's Cross River (Art of the Nigerian Cameroon Border Redefined), 1980, ISBN B000N90BM0
  • Gestures in African Art, 1982, ISBN B0006EBIHE
  • The Anatomy of Architecture: Ontology and Metaphor in Batammaliba Architectural Expression, 1987, ISBN 978-0226058610
  • African Vodun: Art, Psychology, and Power, 1995, ISBN 978-0226058603
  • Royal Arts Of Africa: The Majesty of Form, 1998, ISBN 978-0810927056
  • A History of Art in Africa, co-author, 2000, ISBN 0134421876
  • Butabu: Adobe Architecture of West Africa, 2003, ISBN 978-1568984131
  • Art of the Senses, with Edmund Gaither and Michael Kan, 2004, ISBN 978-0878466597
  • Royal Arts of Africa, 2012, ISBN 978-1856691130
  • Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba: Ife History, Power, and Identity, c.1300, 2015, ISBN 978-1107021662


  1. ^ Suzanne Preston Blier "Autobiography and Art History: The Imperative of Peripheral Vision," RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics No. 39 (Spring, 2001), pp. 24-40.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Suzanne Preston Blier "Imaging Otherness in Ivory: African Portrayals of the Portuguese ca. 1492" The Art Bulletin Vol. 75, No. 3 (Sep., 1993), pp. 375-396
  5. ^ Suzanne Preston Blier "Kings, Crowns, and Rights of Succession: Obalufon Arts at Ife and Other Yoruba Centers," The Art Bulletin , Vol. 67, No. 3 (Sep., 1985), pp. 383-401.
  6. ^ "African Art on the Internet". Stanford University Libraries and Instructional Research. 
  7. ^ "Resources: African Arts". PBS (Public Broadcasting Service). Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  8. ^ "Mapping Africa". Harvard Magazine. March–April 2009. 
  9. ^ Lawson, Konrad (14 March 2012). "Using the WorldMap Platform". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 
  10. ^ "Facing African Art," Colloquy, Spr. 2013.

External links[edit]