Maya Harakawa

Assistant Professor (she/her)
Sidney Smith Hall, Room 6048



Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies

Fields of Study

Areas of Interest

  • Black Art in North America and the Caribbean
  • The Relationship between Art and Politics


I am a historian of 20th-century art of the African Diaspora, with a particular focus on the United States. My current research focuses on the 1960s, a pivotal decade in the history of both art and racial politics in the United States. Moving beyond the binary of “art for art’s sake” and “activist art” that tends to structure accounts of the decade, I mine the ambiguities and conflicts that arose when African American and Afro-Latinx artists traversed these positions. Rather than ask how artists used their work to advance the causes of Civil Rights or Black Power (or to evade them), I question how art objects express the difficulty of aligning art and politics. What were the various pressures (aesthetic, social, personal, etc.) that motivated artists of color and their work in this period? How does art express racial imaginaries that expand the horizon of politics itself? I see my academic work as an extension of my commitments to anti-racism, anti-colonialism, and anti-capitalism, and am always looking for ways to bridge the ivory tower of academia with grassroots activism and political struggle.

I am currently working on two book projects. The first, informed by my dissertation research, is a study of Harlem in the 1960s. The second will be the first book-length scholarly monograph on the art and activism of Benny Andrews.

My courses run the gamut from general surveys of Black Art in North America to seminars on the art of the Caribbean and its diasporas, the relationship between Black Studies and Art History, the Harlem Renaissance, and the art and visual culture of Civil Rights and Black Power. I am interested in taking on graduate students working on any aspect of the Africa Diaspora in the U.S., Canada, or the Caribbean during the 20th century. I am also keen to work with students interested in placing art of the 20th century U.S. in conversation with histories of racism, imperialism, or colonialism.

In addition to being a full time faculty member in the department of Art History, I am a faculty affiliate with the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies.


PhD Art History, The Graduate Center, CUNY
MPhil Art Histry, The Graduate Center, CUNY
BA Art History and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Williams College