Polly Roberts ’81

Deputy Director and Chief Curator, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History

Polly Roberts ’81

“Scripps cultivated my passion for philosophy, language, and art, and it was during my years there that I found my life path: to learn and teach about African culture and art. The professors and classes that I had at Scripps, with their emphasis on critical thinking and a strong humanities orientation, were and continue to be vital to my career as an art historian, museum professional, and scholar.”

Mary Nooter Roberts is Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. She holds a doctorate in Art History from Columbia University with a specialization in African Art. Her research focuses on the philosophical underpinnings of African visual arts and expressive culture, with emphasis on themes of the body and female representation; arts of divination and healing; and arts of memory, writing, and inscription. She has also written on issues of cultural representation and exhibitions as objects of knowledge. From 1984-1994 Roberts served as senior curator at the Museum for African Art, New York, where she organized numerous exhibitions and authored the accompanying books, including Secrecy: African Art that Conceals and Reveals (1993); Exhibition-ism: Museums and African Art with Susan Vogel and Chris Muller (1994); and Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History with Allen F. Roberts (1996), which won the College Art Association’s Alfred Barr Award for Outstanding Museum Scholarship. She is also the author of Facing Africa: African Art in the Toledo Museum of Art (1998); A Sense of Wonder: African Art from the Faletti Family Collection (1997); and The Shape of Belief: African Art from the Michael C. Heide Collection (1996), the latter two with Allen F. Roberts.

Dr. Roberts has taught at Swarthmore College; Columbia University; and The University of Iowa. From 1997-1999 she served as President of the Arts Council of the African Studies Association. Her most recent exhibition and book are entitled Body Politics: The Female Image in Luba Art and the Sculpture of Alison Saar (2000). She is currently organizing a major exhibition with Allen F. Roberts on the art and visual culture of the Mourides, a contemporary Sufi movement in Senegal, and will open at the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History in early 2003 as Passport to Paradise: Sufi Arts of Senegal and Beyond.


In the following video, Dr. Roberts accepts the the lifetime Leadership Award by the academic organization for African Art studies, the Arts Council of the African Studies Association, which meets every three years at a Triennial Symposium on African Art.