Cheryl Finley

Associate Professor, on leave 2021-2023


Cheryl Finley is Associate Professor of Art History. She holds a Ph.D. in African American Studies and History of Art from Yale University. With nearly 20 years of award winning research on historic and contemporary images of the transatlantic slave trade, her seminal study, Committed to Memory: the Art of the Slave Ship Icon, is now available from Princeton University. 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 also published this year,My Soul Has Grown Deep: Black Art from the American South (Yale University Press, 2018), accompanies the exhibition History Refused to Die: Highlights from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through September 23, 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.

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. Dr. Finley 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).

A specialist in the art market, Dr. Finley’s current research includes the interdisciplinary project,Black Market: Inside the Art World, which examines the global art economy, focusing on the relationship among artists, museums, biennials and tourism. She regularly offers the popular online course, the Art Market, which teaches the chronological history of the art market beginning with the Renaissance patronage model of the Medici’s in Italy and ending with close readings of the contemporary art market from prominent dealers, museums, art fairs and biennales.

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 (U. Wurtzburg). 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. She is currently a Research Associate at the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre, Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture (VIAD/FADA), University of Johannesburg, South Africa.


Dr. Finley is a passionate teacher and mentor. She 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. She also loves to share 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. Dr. Finley's joy of teaching comes through in her enthusiasm in the classroom and in the applied practical learning experiences that she shares with her students.

Recent Courses Taught:

VISST 2000 Introduction to Visual Studies
ARTH 3520 African American Cinema
ARTH 4505Contemporary African Diaspora Art
ARTH 6015 Photography and the Archive
ARTH 3505 Blaxploitation Film and Photography
ARTH 4696 The Art Market
ARTH 4508 Exhibiting Cultures: Museums, Monuments, Representation, Display 
ARTH 4509 Black Arts Movement: Art, Literature, Film and Music 
ARTH 4107 The Museum and the Object
ARTH 3500 African American Art


ARTH 3505 Blaxploitation Film and Photography

ARTH 6000 Graduate Research Methods in Art History

ARTH 3506 Slavery and Visual Culture

ARTH 6015 Photography and the Archive

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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