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Cheryl Finley Honored With Horowitz Book Prize

July 2019

Spelman Faculty Fellow Cheryl FinleyCheryl Finley, Ph.D., inaugural director of the Atlanta University Center Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies, received the 2019 Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Book Prize for her book, “Committed to Memory: The Art of the Slave Ship Icon."

Finley's book 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. The Horowitz prize, awarded by the Bard Graduate Center, is given to the best book on the decorative arts, design history or material culture of the Americas. "For the better part of 20 years, I conducted research and worked on this book. I am excited to have this acknowledgment," she said.

"It's a big win for studies related to Black art and culture." 

A specialist in the art market and African diaspora art history, Dr. Finley’s current research examines the global art economy, focusing on the relationship among artists, museums, biennials and migration in the book project, Black Market: Inside the Art World. She holds a Ph.D. in History of Art and African American Studies from Yale University; and is also the author of "My Soul Has Grown Deep: Black Art from the American South" (Yale University Press, 2018). She is also the coauthor of "Harlem: A Century in Images," and the coeditor of "Diaspora, Memory, Place: David Hammons, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Pamela Z."

From the Publisher:

Book by Cheryl FinleyHow an eighteenth-century engraving of a slave ship became a cultural icon of Black resistance, identity, and remembrance

One of the most iconic images of slavery is a schematic wood engraving depicting the human cargo hold of a slave ship. First published by British abolitionists in 1788, it exposed this widespread commercial practice for what it really was--shocking, immoral, barbaric, unimaginable. Printed as handbills and broadsides, the image Cheryl Finley has termed the "slave ship icon" was easily reproduced, and by the end of the eighteenth century it was circulating by the tens of thousands around the Atlantic rim. "Committed to Memory" provides the first in-depth look at how this artifact of the fight against slavery became an enduring symbol of black resistance, identity, and remembrance.

Finley traces how the slave ship icon became a powerful tool in the hands of British and American abolitionists, and how its radical potential was rediscovered in the twentieth century by black artists, activists, writers, filmmakers, and curators. Finley offers provocative new insights into the works of Amiri Baraka, Romare Bearden, Betye Saar, and many others. She demonstrates how the icon was transformed into poetry, literature, visual art, sculpture, performance, and film—and became a medium through which diasporic Africans have reasserted their common identity and memorialized their ancestors.

Beautifully illustrated, "Committed to Memory" features works from around the world, taking readers from the United States and England to West Africa and the Caribbean. It shows how contemporary Black artists and their allies have used this iconic eighteenth-century engraving to reflect on the trauma of slavery and come to terms with its legacy.


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