Tribute to Petrine Archer-Straw (1956-2012)

PPetrine Archer_From the magic Carpet Series

Petrine Archer-Straw – From the Magic Carpet Series (1987), Collection: NGJ, The Guy McIntosh Donation

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.

PArcherStraw_Annual National opening_1998

Petrine Archer-Straw at a National Gallery function, circa 1997

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_From the Magic Carpet Series

Petrine Archer-Straw – From the Magic Carpet Series (1987), Collection: NGJ, The Guy McIntosh Donation

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.

11 thoughts on “Tribute to Petrine Archer-Straw (1956-2012)

  1. We are thinking about her in Ithaca, where she lived at Telluride house, and in my house, and inspired many students. We are thinking of Dane and Knolly … And the fine work she leaves us. But nothing makes up for her absence.

  2. The art world has lost a true talent I can still remember the New World Imagery: Contemporary Jamaican Art (South Bank Centre and National Touring Exhibitions, 1995),
    Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

  3. Thirty years on my memories of the educational talks are vivid and their impact on my sensibility remain in the paintings and sculpture I bought and admire. I am proud to own Female Triangles, a potent reminder of Petrine as an artist. She should have died hereafter but her light is undimmed

  4. I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Dr. Archer-Straw. Though I did not know her well or for a long time, she was very helpful in advising on a recent donation of a painting to the National Gallery of Jamaica. I found her most supportive and encouraging at all stages and unfailingly kind, patient, wise and generous with her time and thoughts. I know she will be greatly missed in the Jamaican and international art community. My wife, Margaret Moyston Cumming, joins me in this sincere expression of condolence.

    Lawrence S. Cumming

  5. First my condolences to her family and friends.It is really a bitter medicine to swallow.
    I met Petrine some years ago, and knew without really knowing that she was an extra ordinary person. What I liked about her was that you never knew .. about all “of those things” but that she was just a humble, unassuming loving sweet and gentle soul .. I can hear her saying now “what ever you ask for yourself in the universe put it our there and it will be yours’. Jamaica has lost a great person, sharp, articulate, a lover of the arts and a great believer.. I will never forget the path we have crossed … love namaste ,,

  6. Last year, Petrine came to Martinique, we met for the first time but I was used to her brilliant thinking. We exchanged, and she was really a beautiful person, so simple, so efficient, we had formed the project of working together, life decided differently. I only knew this morning…!, My sincere condolence to her father and to those who loved her.
    Thank you Petrine for what you did.
    Patricia Donatien-Yssa Université des Antilles et de la Guyane Martinique

  7. It is very difficult for me so far to realize the loss of Petrine Archer-Straw. She came in november 2011 to Martinique with her father to participate a Symposium organized by the Regional Council of Martinique. We were impressed by her quick wit combined with her kindness. She wrote three brilliant essays on Jamaïcan art in a book I had the pleasure of directing and we intend to continue to work on a particular essay she meant to write on Francophone Caribbean artists.
    I think very highly of her father and Knolly Moses. I would like to have their addresses to send them the book published on “Myths, beliefs, religions and imaginary in the Caribbean”
    Petrine, thank you for what you have been.
    Renée-Paule YUNG-HING, cultural manager – Regional Council of Martinique

  8. We were fortunate to have dealings with Dr.Archer this past August 2012…Although, we never met her in person we were touched by her incredible knowledge of Jamaican Art & her enthusiasm for Jamaican art & artists as well. She showed incredible detail and total professionalism in helping us with an art appraisal project. We felt as though we gained a true friendship with her as completed our project together..She was a Very Special Person who will surely be missed by many. Our condolences go out to her family,friends & coworkers. Sincerely, Sandi & Doug Geller

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