Matthew Rarey

  • Associate Professor of African and Black Atlantic Art History


  • PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2014
  • MA, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2008
  • BA, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2005


Matthew Rarey researches and teaches the art history of the Black Atlantic, with a focus on connections between West Africa, Brazil, and Portugal from the seventeenth through twenty-first centuries. His research looks to visual and material culture to centralize Africans’ contributions to histories of slavery, racial formation, religion, and commodity exchange. His first book, Insignificant Things: Amulets and the Art of Survival in the Early Black Atlantic (Duke University Press, 2023) brings together these threads by tracing an accumulative history of bolsas de mandinga: pouch-form amulets of transcultural origins that took on new forms and histories as Africans purveyed them in the south Atlantic between 1660 and 1835. He is now at work on a second book project about eighteenth-century colonial maps of maroon communities in South America, and the afterlives of these maps in the work of contemporary Black artists and land rights activists in Brazil. Rarey has spoken about his research at many venues on both sides of the Atlantic and has been recognized with awards and fellowships from the Midwest Art History Society, the Conference on Latin American History, the Newberry Library, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Professor Rarey retains a strong interest in curating African and Black Atlantic art histories. He has spearheaded installations of African art at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2011); the Emile H. Mathis Gallery at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2015); and the Allen Memorial Art Museum (AMAM) at Oberlin College (2017). In 2019, alongside Andrea Gyorody, he co-curated Afterlives of the Black Atlantic, also at the AMAM, which garnered a 2020 Award of Excellence from the Association of Art Museum Curators.

At Oberlin, he offers courses on African art from the antiquity to the present, as well as African diaspora visual culture in Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States. His classes privilege close visual analysis and careful reading of primary source documents in the context of critical theories of Blackness, sexuality, race, archives, and colonization.

Matt is a lifelong Midwesterner, a fifth-generation Ohioan, and a proud product of the U.S. public education system from elementary through graduate school.

  • Insignificant Things: Amulets and the Art of Survival in the Early Black Atlantic (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2023). 272pp.

  • “Leave No Mark: Blackness and Inscription in the Inquisitorial Archive.” In Black Modernisms in the Transatlantic World, ed. Steven Nelson and Huey Copeland (Washington: National Gallery of Art and Yale University Press, 2023): 34-55.
  • “Never at Rest: African Art at the University of Wisconsin.” With Henry John Drewal. African Arts 53:4 (Winter 2020): 68-85.
  • “‘And the Jet Would Be Invaluable’: Blackness, Bondage, and The Beloved.” The Art Bulletin 102:3 (September 2020): 28-53.
  • “Assemblage, Occlusion, and the Art of Survival in the Black Atlantic.” African Arts 51:4 (Winter 2018): 20-33.
  • “Counterwitnessing the Visual Culture of Brazilian Slavery.” In African Heritage and Memories of Slavery in Brazil and the South Atlantic World, ed. Ana Lucia Araujo (Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2015): 71-108.

  • Krista Thompson, Shine: The Visual Economy of Light in African Diasporic Aesthetic Practice (Durham: Duke University Press, 2015). African Arts 50:4 (Winter 2017): 90-92.
  • Dieter Buchhart (ed.), Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now's the Time (New York, London, and Toronto: Prestel, DelMonico Books, and Art Gallery of Ontario, 2015). CAA Reviews, February 2016.
  • Kimberly L. Cleveland, Black Art in Brazil: Expressions of Identity (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013). Luso-Brazilian Review 52:1 (June 2015): 163-166.
  • Claudia Calirman, Brazilian Art under Dictatorship: Antonio Manuel, Artur Barrio and Cildo Meireles (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012). Luso-Brazilian Review 50:2 (December 2013): 163-166.


Matthew Rarey publishes article

November 20, 2020

Assistant Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey's article, "Never at Rest: African Art at the University of Wisconsin" was published in the winter 2020 issue of African Arts. Rarey authored the essay along with Henry John Drewal, Evjue-Bascom Professor Emeritus of Art History and Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Andrea Gyorody and Matthew Francis Rarey Receive Curatorial Awards for Excellence

April 28, 2020

Andrea Gyorody, Ellen Johnson ‘33 Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Matthew Francis Rarey, assistant professor of art history, have both received 2020 Curatorial Awards for Excellence from the Association of Art Museum Curators (AAMC) for their Allen Memorial Art Museum exhibition “Afterlives of the Black Atlantic.” On view since August 2019, “Afterlives” has been chosen by the AAMC as the best exhibition this past year at an organization with an operating budget of under $5 million.

Matthew Rarey Gives Two Invited Lectures

March 12, 2019

Matthew Rarey, assistant professor of art history, gave two invited lectures, both derived from his current book manuscript. On February 26, he delivered "Leave No Mark: Blackness Inviolate" at the Department of Religion, Amherst College. On March 6, he delivered "Pouches, Archives, and the Art of Survival" at the Program of African Studies at Northwestern University, where he is currently in residence as a visiting scholar for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Matthew Rarey Invited to Seminar Series

October 24, 2018

Matthew Rarey, assistant professor of art history, is one of a select group of scholars invited to participate in "Black Modernisms," a two-part seminar series taking place in October 2018 and April 2019 at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The seminars are part of CASVA's new initiative to support research on African-American and African art.

Matthew Rarey Delivers Lecture

October 19, 2018

Matthew Rarey, assistant professor of art history, delivered an invited lecture, "Glimpsing the Flight from Enslavement" at DePaul University in Chicago on October 18. The lecture was sponsored by the university's Department of the History of Art and Architecture, the Department of African and Black Diaspora Studies, and the Center for Black Diaspora.

Matthew Rarey Awarded NEH Fellowship

September 27, 2018

Matthew Rarey, assistant professor of art history, was awarded a 2018-2019 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities for his book project, Insignificant Things: Assemblage, Occlusion, and the Art of Survival in the Black Atlantic. Professor Rarey is spending his fellowship year as a visiting scholar in the Program of African Studies at Northwestern University.

Matthew Rarey Gives Invited Lecture

September 25, 2018

Matthew Rarey, assistant professor of art history, delivered his lecture, "Questions of Value and Bondage at a Hotel in London, March 1865" at the Center for Visual Culture at Bryn Mawr College. The lecture, which is based on an in-progress article, discusses Dante Gabriel Rossetti's 1866 painting, The Beloved, in the context of 19th century theories of race and sexuality, as well as transnational abolitionist dialogues.

Matthew Rarey Presents

April 10, 2018

Assistant Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey presented new work on the memorialization of the slave trade in Ghana in his presentation "Dirt, Concrete, and the Substance of Memory in Slavery's Dungeon" at Honoring Ancestors in Africa: Art and Actions held on April 6-7 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison .

Matthew Rarey Participates in African Art History Discussion

March 30, 2018

Assistant Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey was one of a select group of invited participants to "The Future of African Art: A State of the Field Convening" at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, March 22-24. The gathering brought together curators, professors, independent scholars, and collectors of African art from three continents to discuss future directions and challenges in the study of African art history.


African Art Gets New Home

February 8, 2017

The Allen Memorial Art Museum has 107 African art objects in its collection. With the opening on February 2, 25 objects are now on view. The installation was curated by students in the fall 2016 seminar, African Art in Museums: From Collection to Display.