Michael D. Harris is one of a very few people working as an artist, an art historian, and a curator on a national and international level.


Michael D. Harris, Ph.D.

Artist, Curator, and Scholar

Dr. Michael D. Harris was named to the list of curators and scholars, “25 Who Made a Difference,” in the fall 2001 issue of International Review of African American Art. The list includes David Driskell, James Porter, Samella Lewis, Richard Powell, and Jeff Donaldson, among others. He received the James Porter Award from Howard University in 2016 and the Alain Locke Award from the Detroit Institute for the Arts in 2017.

He is among the few African American scholars to hold terminal degrees in studio art (M.F.A. in Painting, Howard University 1979), African American Studies (M.A. in African American Studies, Yale University, 1989), and in art history (Ph.D. in Art History, Yale University, 1996). An Associate Professor of Art History at Emory University, he taught for eleven years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earlier at Morehouse College, and was a visiting professor at Dillard University in New Orleans for a semester. Additionally, he has taught as an adjunct at Wellesley College, Duke University, and Spelman College.

As an artist, Harris is known internationally as a member of the noted artist collective AfriCOBRA which was featured in a documentary film shown on TVLand (formerly Nick at Nite) in February 2011. He has exhibited all across the United States, Europe, and in Martinique and Haiti in the Caribbean. His work is in public and private collections around the nation.

Prof. Harris does curatorial work at the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, and he worked as a curatorial consultant for five years at the High Museum in Atlanta, and has worked independently as a curator for the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, and the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service. Harris co-curated the ground-breaking exhibition, Astonishment and Power: Kongo Minkisi and the Art of Renee Stout at the National Museum of African Art in 1993, and the following year was guest curator at the High Museum for The Royal Art of Benin which originated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Before becoming one of the leading scholars of African American art, Prof. Harris also produced one of the first dissertations on contemporary African art while at Yale University. He served on the National Board for ACASA (Arts Council for the African Studies Association) and was its Treasurer for 2 years. He has served on the editorial board of African Arts magazine out of UCLA, and presently is on the editorial board of The International Review of African American Art out of Hampton University, each the leading journal in its respective field. Presently Harris serves on the National Board of the National Conference of Artists. He has been a Grant Reviewer for the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles and was a member of the Arts Committee of the Social Science Research Council in New York. In the summer of 2014, he was a core faculty member for an NEH Summer Institute on Black Aesthetics and Spirituality housed at Emory University in Atlanta.

Prof. Harris’ important book, Colored Pictures: Race and Visual Representation (2003), one of the first books dealing with critical issues in African American art rather than a monograph or survey, and it won the Outstanding Contribution to Publishing Citation from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association in 2004 and the book still is being used in major universities across the nation from Columbia, to Michigan, to Stanford. He was a co-author of the first major textbook for African Art, A History of Art in Africa (2000, 2007), and has had over thirty-four articles published in various journals, magazines, books, and exhibition catalogs including journals in London and Canada.

Presently Prof. Harris is working on a new book length manuscript, and is the editor of an anthology on African American art. He has given numerous lectures and presentations around the nation for the past 30 years, including the Inaugural Endowed Lecture in Honor of Robert P. Madison and In Memory of Leatrice B. Madison at the Cleveland Museum of Art (2015), and the keynote address at the inaugural conference of the Association of American Art Historians at St. Francis College in New York, and as a panelist at the National Gallery of Art for their series on collecting African American art.