Benjamin, Tritobia Hayes

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Tritobia Hayes Benjamin


Art historian, educator

A distinguished art historian and champion of black artists, Tritobia Hayes Benjamin has been a member of the Art Department at Howard University since 1970. She was made full professor of art history in 1993 and is associate dean of the Division of Fine Arts and director of the Howard University Gallery of Art. A respected authority on black American women artists, she has written many articles and exhibition catalogues. Benjamin is the author of an acclaimed book about African-American artist Lois Mailou Jones, has won many awards and fellowships, and is a member of many prestigious organizations. She has been responsible for seeking and developing a new building to house the Gallery of Art with the aim of making the permanent collection more accessible to students, faculty, and the wider public.

Born in Brinkley, Arkansas, on October 22, 1944, Tritobia Hayes Benjamin attended Howard University, where she received her bachelor's degree in art history in 1968 and her master's degree in 1970. In 1991 she was awarded a Ph.D. in art history at the University of Maryland. She is married to Donald S. Benjamin and they have three children, Zalika Aminah, Aminah Liani, and Anwar Salih.

Benjamin's academic career began in 1970 when she was employed as an instructor in art history at Georgetown University. At the same time she worked as an instructor at Howard University, and she went on to become an assistant professor in the Art Department in 1973, associate professor in 1977, and full professor in 1993. In the meantime she served at Howard and elsewhere in other capacities. In 1978 she was named Cafritz Guest Lecturer, a position funded by the Cafritz Foundation, which seeks to enhance the lives of Washington, D.C., residents by awarding grants that support artistic and cultural projects. In this period she was also guest curator at the Afro-American Institute, where she delivered an exhibition entitled "African Artists in America."

Benjamin's career has been focussed in particular on the work of African American women artists and she has done a great deal to promote their work in the United States and abroad. The painter Lois Mailou Jones, who was also Benjamin's teacher, colleague, and friend at Howard, has been the subject of several of her articles. Benjamin's book, The Life and Art of Lois Mailou Jones (1994), was widely praised for having rediscovered an artist unjustly ignored. As the reviewer in American Artist put it, until Benjamin's book appeared Lois Mailou Jones had "fallen through the cracks," while Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, states that Benjamin "covers each stage of Jones' 'triumphant' life with knowledgeable enthusiasm and deep respect."

Benjamin has written on other black artists, including sculptor Selma Hortense Burke and painter Annie E.A. Walker, and has contributed to the organization and presentation of many exhibitions. In 1989 she served as cultural consultant for a Washington-Moscow cultural exchange and throughout her career has worked tirelessly to serve the academic and artistic communities through her work in various committees and organizations. In particular she is a member of the National Conference of Artists, the College Art Association, Smithsonian National Associates, The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the National Museum of American Art.

Benjamin reached the highest academic level in 1993 when she became full professor, and later was named director of the Gallery of Art at Howard. In addition, she has also received many awards, including a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship-in-Residence for College Teachers, which she held in 1975-76, and the Fellowship for Faculty of Historically Black Colleges and Universities from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1984-85. Her work in exhibiting and developing the work of black American artists has been recognized at an international level throughout her distinguished career of over 30 years.

Selected writings


The Life and Art of Lois Mailou Jones, Pomegranate Artbooks, 1994.


"Color, Structure, Design: The Artistic Expressions of Lois Mailou Jones," The International Review of African-American Arts, 1991.

"Selma Hortense Burke, American Sculptor" and "Lois Mailou Jones, American Painter," in Black Women in America, An Historical Encyclopedia, Carlson Publishing Inc., 1992.

"Annie E.A. Walker, Painter," in Dictionary of American Negro Biography, W.W. Norton, 1993.

"Lois Mailou Jones: The Decorative Patterns of Her Life," American Visions, June-July 1993.

At a Glance …

Born Tritobia Hayes on October 22, 1944, in Brinkley, Arkansas; married Donald S. Benjamin; children: Zalika Aminah, Aminah Liani, Anwar Salih. Education: Howard University, BA, 1968; MA, 1970; University of Maryland, PhD, 1991.

Career: Georgetown University, instructor, 1970; Howard University, instructor, 1970-73, assistant professor, 1973-77, associate professor, 1977-93, professor, 1993-, associate dean, Division of Fine Arts, 1993-; Howard University Gallery of Art, curator of exhibits and director.

Memberships: National Conference of Artists; College Art Association; Smithsonian National Associates; Studio Museum, Harlem; National Museum of American Art.

Awards: National Endowment for the Humanities, Fellowships-in-Residence for College Teachers, 1975-76, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for Faculty of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, 1984-85; Howard University School of Education, Spencer Foundation Research Award, 1975-77; Eta Phi Sigma, honorary member, 1986; United Negro College Fund, PEW Humanities Fellowship Grant, 1986-87; Howard University, Office of the VP for Academic Affairs, Faculty Research Grant in the Social Sciences, Humanities, and Education, 1988-89.

Addresses: Office—Associate Dean, Division of Fine Arts, College of Arts and Sciences, Howard University, 2455 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20059-0002.



American Artist, September 1995, p. 88.

Booklist, February 15, 1995, p. 1050.


"AAWI Profiles: Tritobia Hayes Benjamin, PhD," African American Women's Institute, (June 8, 2005).

Howard University Gallery of Art, (June 8, 2005).

"Tritobia Hayes Benjamin," Howard University, (June 8, 2005).

—Chris Routledge