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Suzanne Preston Blier Is the New CAA President

posted by Christopher Howard — Apr 04, 2016

Suzanne Preston Blier, a historian of African art and architecture at Harvard University, has been elected president of CAA 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. She will succeed DeWitt Godfrey, professor of art and art history at Colgate University.

In her statement for candidacy, Blier wrote, “My priorities as president will focus on increasing membership in part through changes to the Annual Conference and enhancing CAA’s place in the community of discourse nationally and internationally through more effective social media engagement and the use of digital technologies. I hope also to broaden our engagement not only at the local and national levels but also internationally.”

Blier earned a BA from the University of Vermont in 1973 and completed a PhD in art history from Columbia University. Blier taught at Northwestern University for two years (1981–83) and returned to Columbia (1983–93) before landing at Harvard, where she is currently Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and Professor of African and African American Studies.

In 2008, Blier helped found an on-line GIS-enhanced database and mapping project supported by the Center for Geographic Analysis at her school that in 2011 was relaunched as Worldmap.

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.

“In my own academic work,” Blier continued in her statement, “I have come to understand firsthand the importance of engaging broad and diverse communities of participants; my work initiating an open source website focused on an array of mapping projects, has offered me opportunities to see the imprint that new technologies can have in the lives of both faculty and students.”

Blier’s most recent book is Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba: Ife History, Power, and Identity, c. 1300 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), which won the 2016 PROSE Award for Art History and Criticism. She also wrote several other books of note: African Royal Art: The Majesty of Form (London: Calmann and King, 1998); African Vodun: Art, Psychology, and Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), which received CAA’s Morey Book Award in 1997; and The Anatomy of Architecture: Ontology and Metaphor in Batammaliba Architectural Expression (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), which won the inaugural Arnold Rubin Outstanding Publication Award from the Arts Council of the African Studies Association. The production of both African Vodun and The Anatomy of Architecture were supported by grants from CAA’s Millard Meiss Publication Fund. Blier’s books have been translated into Spanish, Italian, Chinese, and Korean. A publication edited with David Bindman, called The Image of the Black in African and Asian Art, is forthcoming from Harvard University Press.

Her scholarship has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including African ArtsJournal of African HistoryAmerican Journal of Semiotics, 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. Other essays in CAA’s flagship journal are “Kings, Crowns, and Rights of Succession: Obalufon Arts at Ife and Other Yoruba Centers” (September 1985) and “Imaging Otherness in Ivory: African Portrayals of the Portuguese ca. 1492” (September 1993). Both articles were selected by members of the Art Bulletin Editorial Board for the Centennial Anthology of the Art Bulletin’s “greatest hits,” designating important articles and reviews since the journal’s 1913 founding to mark CAA¹s Centennial in 2011.