Cultural Studies Alumna Deborah Willis Named Director of NYU's Institute of African American Affairs

by Anne Reynolds

Cultural Studies Alumna Deborah Willis Named Director of NYU's Institute of African American Affairs
Professor Deborah Willis, with her son, artist Hank Willis Thomas, presenting a TED talk, 2017.

Deborah Willis, PhD Cultural Studies ’03, has been named the director of the Institute of African American Affairs at New York University. In her announcement of Willis’s appointment, NYU Provost Katherine Fleming noted that Willis, a University Professor who had been serving as Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, will bring her experience and skill in visual arts to the IAAA, furthering its mission to promote the cultural and intellectual contributions of Africa and its diaspora. Within IAAA, Willis will create the Center for Black Visual Culture, which will bring together scholarly and artistic focus on global images of Black people and culture.

Fleming describes Willis as “a renowned art photographer and historian of African American photography and culture,” with expertise in photography, imaging, iconicity, and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women, and gender. Denise Albanese, director of Mason’s Cultural Studies Program, relates that Willis’s dissertation on Black photography, undertaken during her doctoral studies at Mason, was supported by a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship (a MacArthur “Genius Grant”). Willis is also a former Richard D. Cohen Fellow in African and African American Art at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center, and was a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and an Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. Fellow.

“She is certainly one of Mason’s most accomplished alumni, and the Cultural Studies Program is proud to have played a role in launching her academic career,” adds Albanese.

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