Matthew Rarey

  • Associate Professor of African and Black Atlantic Art History
  • Chair of Art History

Education

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

Biography

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). 304pp.

  • “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.

  • National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute, “Mapping the Early Modern World.” The Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois (2022)
  • Award for Excellence, Association of Art Museum Curators (with Andrea Gyorody) (2020)
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (2018-2019)
  • Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellowship, Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Madison (2013-2014)
  • Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Mellon Fellowship for Dissertation Research in Original Sources (2012-2013)
  • James R. Scobie Memorial Award, Conference on Latin American History (2011)

Fall 2023

Approaches to African Art — ARTH 154
Sacred Arts of Vodou and SanteríaSacred Arts of Vodou and Santería — ARTH 272

Spring 2024

Methods of Art History — ARTH 299
Slavery and the Problem of the Visual — ARTH 370

Notes

Matthew Rarey Presents at Atlantic History Workshop

February 7, 2024

On January 30, Associate Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey spoke to the Atlantic History Workshop at New York University. Rarey discussed and received feedback on a chapter of his in-progress book manuscript, tentatively titled Blackness and Cartography in the Unending Eighteenth Century, with professors and graduate students from across the university.

Matthew Rarey Finalist for 2024 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award

November 21, 2023

Associate Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey has been named a finalist for the 2024 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award from the College Art Association. Rarey's book Insignificant Things: Amulets and the Art of Survival in the Early Black Atlantic is one of five finalists for the prize, which will be announced in January. The award honors "an especially distinguished book in the history of art, published in the English language," and is among the highest recognitions for scholarship in art history.

Matthew Rarey Delivered Paper at Clark Conference

October 25, 2023

On October 19, Associate Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey delivered his paper "Renaming the Fetish: Assembling Bolsas de Mandinga" at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Rarey's invited talk was part of the Clark's 2023 conference, "The Fetish A(r)t Work: African Objects in the Making of European Art History, 1500-1900," which examined the making and “invention” of African art in European discourse.

Matthew Rarey Essay Published

June 6, 2023

Associate Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey published his essay “Sela Adjei: Seeing in Black" in the edited volume Zadokeli: Efo Sela x Mawuli Adzei x Elikplim Akorli. The essay analyzes the work of contemporary Ghanaian artist Sela Adjei, placing it in a longer history of abstract painting employed by 20th-century Black artists and social movements in West Africa and the United States.

Matthew Rarey Concontributed Chapter to "Black Modernisms in the Transatlantic World"

May 17, 2023

Associate Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey contributed the chapter "Leave No Mark: Blackness and Inscription in the Inquisitorial Archive," to the volume Black Modernisms in the Transatlantic World. Edited by Steven Nelson and Huey Copeland, the book emerged out of meetings held at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 2018 and 2019. These meetings brought together leading scholars of Black art history to debate and remake the "boundaries of modernist art—its notions time and again focused on the singular white male European or American artist—with another set of imperatives, ethics, and histories, broadening our understanding of the past and present of modernism."

Matthew Rarey Presented Paper at Dumbarton Oaks Symposium

May 17, 2023

Associate Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey presented his paper "Fugitive Landscapes and the Challenge of Black Atlantic Cartographies: Brazil, 1763" at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. Rarey's paper was one of eleven invited presentations at Dumbarton Oaks' Spring Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium, entitled "Environmental Histories of the Black Atlantic World: Landscape Histories of the African Diaspora," organized by N. D. B. Connolly and Oscar de la Torre. The symposium brought together archaeologists, historians, art historians, and landscape architects to discuss and debate place-based histories of landscapes, waterscapes, and environments of the Black Atlantic world from the fifteenth through the twentieth century.

Matthew Rarey Publishes First Book

April 26, 2023

Associate Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey's first book, Insignificant Things: Amulets and the Art of Survival in the Early Black Atlantic, has been published by Duke University Press. The book traces the history of African-associated amulets carried as tools of survival in the Black Atlantic world between the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Rarey argues that these visually benign objects demand new ways of writing the histories of art and Atlantic slavery.

Matthew Rarey Appointed to New Ohio-based Editorial Consortium

April 19, 2023

Associate Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey has been appointed to a new Ohio-based editorial consortium for African Arts, the flagship journal in his field. Headquartered at Miami University, the consortium brings together experts in African art at Miami, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Kent State, and Ohio State.

Matthew Rarey Delivered the 2023 Stern Lecture

April 6, 2023

On March 20, Associate Professor of Art History Matthew Rarey delivered the 2023 Stern Lecture at the Newcomb Art Department at Tulane University in New Orleans. Rarey's talk, "Atlantic Slavery and the Ethics of Cartography: Brazil, 1763," is based on recent archival research in Brazil and Portugal, and forms part of his in-progress book manuscript 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.

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.

News

3 Things with Matthew Rarey

January 31, 2024

Matthew Rarey, the chair of Oberlin’s art history department and an associate professor of African and Black Atlantic art history, won the College Art Association’s prestigious Charles Rufus Morey Book Award in 2024.

The Art of Difficult Decisions

January 29, 2024

The museum world is known for posing big questions. The Allen Memorial Art Museum has a plan for addressing them.