The National Gallery of Jamaica deeply regrets the passing of Dr Petrine Archer-Straw, Jamaican art historian, curator, critic and educator. Dr Archer-Straw was a past Board and and a past staff member of the National Gallery.
Petrine Archer-Straw was born in Birmingham, England, to Jamaican parents, and her family moved back to Jamaica in the early 1970s. A graduate of the University of the West Indies-Mona and the Jamaica School of Art (now part of the Edna Manley College), she joined the Education Department staff of the National Gallery in 1983 and thus started what would become a distinguished international career as an art historian and curator. Petrine Archer-Straw was instrumental in developing the Education department’s lecture, panel discussion and film screening programmes and her input helped to turn the department into a lively center for discussion and research. One of her key contributions was a series of lectures on masterpieces from the National Gallery collection, such as Barrington Watson’s Mother and Child and Christopher Gonzales’ Homage to Bob Marley, which derived from her extensive research on these works of art, the artists, and their context.
After completing an M.Phil. in History at the University of the West Indies, which she did while working at the National Gallery, Petrine Archer-Straw continued her post-graduate studies in Art History at the prestigious Courtauld Institute, University of London, where she earned her Ph.D. in 1995. She was also a certified appraiser (New York University, 2010) and an Associate of the Appraisers Association of America.
Petrine Archer-Straw worked mainly as an independent writer, curator, lecturer and consultant, who was critically acclaimed for her academic work on primitivism and the visual culture of the African Diaspora. Her many publications include Jamaican Art (1990), the first full-length book on the subject, which she co-authored with Kim Robinson, and Negrophilia (2000), a critical study of the infatuation with Africa and Black culture in 1920s Paris. She was a frequent contributor on art to Caribbean Beat, the in-flight magazine of Caribbean Airlines, and maintained a blog, Diaspora Dialogs, which featured short reviews and commentaries on various subjects related to Jamaican, Caribbean and African Diaspora art.
Most of Petrine Archer-Straw’s curatorial work focused on Jamaica and Jamaican artists. Her exhibitions included: New World Imagery: Contemporary Jamaican Art (South Bank Centre and National Touring Exhibitions, 1995), Photos and Phantasms: Harry Johnston’s Photographs of the Caribbean (Royal Geographical Society, London, 1998), and Back to Black, (Whitechapel Gallery, London, 2005), which she co-curated with Richard Powell and David A. Bailey. Photos and Phantasm was toured internationally by the British Council and shown at the National Gallery of Jamaica in 1998. Petrine Archer-Straw continued to collaborate frequently with the National Gallery of Jamaica, where she served as a visiting curator, and had recently proposed the exhibition Rasta!, on the art and visual culture of Rastafari, which was in the planning stages for late 2013.
Petrine Archer-Straw was also a noted artist, who had exhibited at the National Gallery of Jamaica and had a major solo exhibition, The Magic Carpet Series, at Frame Centre Gallery in 1987. Her work, which explored the personal and cultural symbolism in traditional and new decorative patterns, can be found in private and public collections, including the National Gallery of Jamaica and the print collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Dr Archer-Straw was a highly valued and respected colleague and friend and her thoughtful critical spirit, strong professional ethics, and, most of all, her immense enthusiasm for her chosen profession were an inspiration to all who worked with her. Her passing is a tremendous loss to the Jamaican, Caribbean and Black Diaspora artistic community.
The National Gallery Board and Staff extend sincere condolences to her parents, her sister Angela deFreytas, her partner Knolly Moses, her son Dane, and her other family members and many friends.