Suzanne Blier

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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 with appointments in both the History of Art and Architecture department and the department of African and African American studies. She is also a member of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science and a faculty associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. 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. Other fellowships have included the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton New Jersey as well as the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, Ca. (twice), the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) in Washington, D.C., and the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Ma.

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 and was a finalist for the Melville J. Herskovits Award of the African Studies Association.[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 2016 Blier's Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba: Ife History, Politics, and Identity c.1300. won the PROSE Award in Art History and Criticism, granted annually in recognition for the very best in professional and scholarly publishing. The production of both African Vodun and The Anatomy of Architecture were supported by grants from CAA’s Millard Meiss Publication Fund.

Blier's scholarship has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including African Arts, Journal of African History, American Journal of Semiotics, Res: Anthropology and Art, and Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. A short essay “Art, Mimesis, and Tigritude” can be found in the June 2013 issue of The Art Bulletin as part of the series Notes from the Field: Mimesis. 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." Homme Blanc/Homme Noir: Impressions d’Afrique which included Blier's “L’Afrique et l’Occident: une introduction,” received the Prix International du Livre d'Art Tribal in 2015.

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] In 2013, Blier and Peter Bol received a Digital Humanities Implementation Grant Award to enhance this website with their project, “Extending WorldMap to Make It Easier for Humanists and Others to Find, Use, and Publish Geospatial Information.”

Blier currently serves as president of the College Art Association for a two-year term, beginning in May 2016. A member of the board since 2012, Blier has served as vice president for publications (2013–15) and vice president of Annual Conference (2015–16), and has served on task forces related to the development of CAA’s Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts and Guidelines for the Evaluation of Digital Scholarship in Art and Art History. Blier’s involvement in CAA spans several decades. She originally served on the board from 1989 to 1994. She was a member of the Art Bulletin Editorial Board from 2003 to 2007, serving one year as chair, and participated on the juries for CAA’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art (2004–6) and Charles Rufus Morey Book Award (2009–11). Blier also helped to shape CAA’s Strategic Plan 2015–2020 and, in her role as vice president, chaired both the Annual Conference Committee and the 2016 task force that brought significant changes to the Annual Conference organization and structure.

Blier also has served on the Board of Directors of the Society of Architectural Historians.

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. ^
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  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.

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