Cheryl Finley

Associate Professor, on leave 2021-2024


Cheryl Finley holds a Ph.D. in African American Studies and History of Art from Yale University. With nearly 20 years of research on historic and contemporary images of the transatlantic slave trade, her seminal study, Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon (Princeton University Press, 2018) was the winner of the Historians of British Art Book Prize, 1600-1800. This monograph is the first in-depth study of the most famous image associated with the memory of slavery, a schematic engraving of a packed slave ship hold, and the art, architecture, poetry and film it has inspired since its creation in Britain in 1788. Another of Dr. Finley’s works, My Soul Has Grown Deep: Black Art from the American South (Yale University Press, 2018), has accompanied the exhibition History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2018.

An art historian, curator and contemporary art critic, Dr. Finley has contributed essays and reviews to Aperture, Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, American Quarterly and Art Forum. Her prolific critical attention to photography has produced the coauthored publications Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story (Carnegie Museum of Art, 2011), Harlem: A Century in Images (Skira Rizzoli, 2010), Diaspora, Memory, Place: David Hammons, Maria Magdalena Campos- Pons, Pamela Z (Prestel, 2008), and numerous catalog essays and journal articles on artists such as Lorna Simpson, Hank Willis Thomas, Walker Evans, Joy Gregory, Carrie Mae Weems, Roshini Kempadoo, Deborah Willis and Berenice Abbott. Recent contributions include essays in Peter Braithwaite: Rediscovering Black Portraiture (Getty Publications, 2023), Whitfield Lovell: Passages (Rizzoli, 2023), and Frank Stewart’s Nexus: An American Photographer’s Journey, 1960 to the Present (Rizzoli, 2023).

As a curator of contemporary African diaspora art, photography and performance, Dr. Finley contributed the multimedia installation African Diaspora Room to the inaugural exhibition of the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh in 2010 and co-curated 3x3: Three Artists/Three Projects, David Hammons, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Pamela Z for the 2004 Dak’Art Biennial of Contemporary African Art in Dakar, Senegal with History of Art Department colleague Dr. Salah Hassan. She is also the curator of Renderings: New Narratives and Reinterpretations, a nationally touring exhibition celebrating 40 years of printmaking from the Brandywine Workshop in Philadelphia (2014) and the photography exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, Re-dedicate: Ghana@ 50! at the W.E.B. Du Bois Center, Accra (2007).

Dr. Finley is completing a monograph on the artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons as part of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center’s A VER: Revisioning Art History series. Funded by a two-year American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) collaborative faculty grant, she is finishing a collaborative project on the contemporary migration crisis in the Mediterranean and at the US/Mexico Border, Visualizing Travel, Gendering Diaspora, with colleagues Leigh Raiford (UC Berkeley) and Heike Raphael-Hernandez (University of Würtzburg). Dr. Finley’s research has been supported by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University; the Ford Foundation; the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art (CASVA); and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among others.


Dr. Finley was named one of Cornell University’s “young faculty innovators” by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research in October 2009.” She has taught undergraduate lectures and graduate seminars using an interdisciplinary, multimedia, comparative approach to topics such as contemporary African diaspora art, the art market, African American art, African American cinema, photography and the archive, cultural heritage tourism, and museum studies. All of her courses incorporate a practical, hands-on approach, with frequent in-class sessions at the Johnson Museum, the Kroch Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Citrin Center for Photography, and the Africana Library. Dr. Finley enjoys exposing her students to significant and enriching archives and cultural centers on campus, and sharing her experience of contemporary art and the art market in New York with her students by visiting galleries, museums, auctions houses, artists and private collectors.

Research Focus

  • African American and African Diaspora art history and visual culture
  • Cultural memory theory
  • History of photography
  • The art market
  • Museum studies
  • African architecture
  • Cultural heritage tourism

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ARTH Courses - Spring 2024