Joshua I. Cohen

Headshot: Joshua Cohen

Research Interests

  • 20th-century Africa, Europe, and the US; modernism; postcolonial studies


  • Ph.D., Columbia University, 2014


Affiliated Campus(es)

  • The City College of New York

Joshua I. Cohen is an art historian specializing in 20th-century francophone West Africa, southern Africa, and connections to Europe and the United States. His specific areas of interest include African and “global” modernisms; postcolonial studies; discourses of “primitivism,” racial identity, and “renaissance” in art (history); national socialist cultural policies; West African ballet performance; and museum studies.

He has designed and taught courses on African decolonization and modern art, African canonical sculpture and cosmopolitan modernisms, the Harlem Renaissance, portraiture in Africa and the diaspora, postcolonialism in contemporary art, and curatorial issues surrounding the arts of Africa.

His first scholarly monograph, The “Black Art” Renaissance: African Sculpture and Modernism across Continents (University of California Press, 2020), received honorable mention for the Modernist Studies Association First Book Prize (for a book published in 2020).

His writing has additionally appeared in The Art Bulletin, African Arts, Journal of Black Studies, Journal of Southern African Studies, Burlington Magazine, Wasafiri, Africa Is a Country, and publications of MoMA and the Centre Pompidou (see here for an archive of articles and book chapters).

In fall 2020, with Foad Torshizi (RISD) and Vazira Zamindar (Brown University), he co-organized an international conference, Art History, Postcolonialism, and the Global Turn, and is collaborating on publishing contributions to the conference as a journal issue.

His current book project, tentatively titled Art of the Opaque: African Modernisms, Decolonization, and the Cold War, is a critical study of modernism between Africa and its diaspora in the context of decolonization and the global Cold War.



  • The “Black Art” Renaissance: African Sculpture and Modernism across Continents. Oakland: University of California Press, 2020. REVIEWS: Ellen McBreen, The Burlington Magazine 163 (July 2021): 644-46; Kara Mshinda, CAA Reviews, September 28, 2021; Chelsy Monie, African Arts 55, no. 1 (Spring 2022): 95-96.
  • The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives in Photographic Portraiture from Africa, with Sandrine Colard and Giulia Paoletti; preface by Z.S. Strother. New York; Munich: Wallach Art Gallery; Hirmer Verlag, 2016.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

  • “African Socialist Cultural Policy: Senegal under Senghor.” African Arts 54, no. 3 (Autumn 2021): 28-37.
  • “Harlem and Abroad: Notes to an International ‘Renaissance.’” Wasafiri 34, no. 3 (issue 99, Autumn 2019): 37-48.
  • “Locating Senghor’s École de Dakar: International and Transnational Dimensions to Senegalese Modern Art, c 1959-1980.” African Arts 51, no. 3 (Autumn 2018): 10-25.
  • “Fauve Masks: Rethinking Modern 'Primitivist' Uses of African and Oceanic Art, 1905-8.” The Art Bulletin 99, no. 2 (June 2017): 136-65.
  • “Stages in Transition: Les Ballets Africains and Independence, 1959 to 1960.” Journal of Black Studies 43, no. 1 (January 2012): 11-48.

Select Book Chapters and Essays

  • “Art and the Struggle for Ambazonia.” Africa Is a Country, 2022.
  • Ndaanaan, Modou Niang.” In Africa in the UNESCO Art Collection, 205-09. Paris: UNESCO, 2021.
  • “Picasso, la Guerra Fría y la descolonización en África.” Trans. María Luisa Balseiro. In Picasso e historia, ed. José Lebrero Stals and Pepe Karmel, 227-37. Málaga: Museo Picasso Málaga, 2021.
  • “Senghor, ‘l’art nègre’ et l’école de Dakar.” In Déborder la négritude: Arts, politique et société à Dakar, ed. Mamadou Diouf and Maureen Murphy, 19-33. Dijon: Presses du Réel, 2020.
  • “The Politics of Influence.” Africa Is a Country, 2020.
  • “On Labels, Colonial Legacies, and the Current Crisis in African Art Studies.” African Arts 53 no. 3 (Autumn 2020): 19-21.
  • “Identity and Abstraction: Ernest Mancoba in London and Paris, 1938-1940.” Post: Notes on Modern & Contemporary Art Around the Globe. New York: MoMA, 2018.
  • “Deux masques ivoiriens et La Guitare (1912) de Picasso.” In Actes du colloque: Picasso. Sculptures. Paris: Musée Picasso, 2017.
  • “Derain et l’« art primitif ».” Trans. Jean-François Cornu. In André Derain, 1904-1914. La décennie radicale, ed. Cécile Debray, 129-133. Paris: Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2017.
  • “Un équilibre décisif entre l’« éternel » et le moderne.” Trans. Jean-François Cornu. In André Derain, 1904-1914. La décennie radicale, ed. Cécile Debray, 91-92. Paris: Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2017.
  • “Souleymane Keita: Traversées.” In Actes du colloque: Avant que la ‘magie’ n’opère : Modernités artistiques en Afrique, ed. Maureen Murphy and Nora Gréani. Paris: Institut National de l’Histoire de l’Art; Histoire Culturelle et Sociale de l’Art (HiCSA), Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, 2017.
  • “Interrogating the Portrait in Mohamed Camara’s Photography.” In The Expanded Subject: New Perspectives in Photographic Portraiture from Africa, 59-79. New York; Munich: Wallach Art Gallery, Hirmer Verlag, 2016.
  • The Play: Reassembling African Arts in the West.” In Curatorial Dreams: Critics Imagine Exhibitions, ed. Shelley Butler and Erica Lehrer, 127-140. Montreal; Kingston, Ont.: McGill-Queens University Press, 2016. Also published in Curating Art, ed. Janet Marstine and Oscar Ho King Kay, New York: Routledge, 2021, 345-55.
Headshot: Joshua Cohen


Affiliated Campus(es)

  • The City College of New York