Petrine Archer was a leading historian of Jamaican and Caribbean art. She also worked as a curator, writer, university professor and a yoga teacher.  She attended the Jamaican School of Art (now the Edna Manley School for the Visual and Performing Arts) and later received a BA and an M.Phil. from the University of the West Indies. She gained her doctorate from Courtauld Institute, University of London. Born in Birmingham, she was living in Kingston when she died suddenly in 2012.

We have left this site up because scholars and students from around the globe still use it for research on Jamaican and Caribbean art.

Knolly Moses

A new book Slaves to Fashion published by Duke Press and authored by Monica L. Miller, Assistant Professor of Literature and Barnard University explores the relationship of black people and dress through her exploration of Dandyism from the 18th century to the present. Her research counters stereotypes of black men more normally hypersexualised by the media to explore an era related to conspicuous consumption of the 18th century when the wealthy classes 'kept' black male servants as pets. Her narrative reveals how these slaves improvised their livery to create new fashion forms that were both vogue and dandyfied. The books review notes

“Tracing the history of the black dandy forward to contemporary celebrity incarnations such as Andre 3000 and Sean Combs, Miller explains how black people became arbiters of style and how they have historically used the dandy’s signature tools—clothing, gesture, and wit—to break down limiting identity markers and propose new ways of fashioning political and social possibility in the black Atlantic world.”

But this kind of innovation should not be  surprising to us in the Caribbean where fashion and adornment have played a crucial role in defining the black self. For a people transported to the region without possessions, who since emancipation have built their sense of race and nation around ideals of dignity reflected in the refined dress of freemasonry, the pomp and glory of the UNIA, the regal and military garb of Haile Selassie, church hats and dresses and even the crowning glory of dread locks, clothes have become an important marker of freedom and dignity. Slaves to Fashion provides a historical context for understanding contemporary trends in dance hall where  some of Jamaica’s most deadly gangsters wear outrageously gaudy and feminine clothes, colour and perm their hair and pluck their eyebrows to promote their difference. This is a history that redefines black manhood and our relationship to the body that makes sense of our present day foibles for trinkets and bling.

A recent advertisement promoting cheaper fares to London on Virgin Atlantic has clearly been designed to appeal to the younger hip black british traveller but there's something suspiciously stereotypical about the way its imagery has been handled. As smart as this couple look with his cool shades and her trendy bob, they remind us that race is a system of shifting signifiers marked by skin tone, bulging eyes and boobs. I have stared at these images trying to place their visual pedigree in a lineage of  posters for commodities that range from pancake syrups to luxury soaps, and their source is surprisingly not black but white. With their big heads and rubberized complexions they resemble the intrepid Thunderbirds; those rocket flying puppets who commandeered the skies and our image of the future on television back in the 1960s. How clever of Virgin Atlantic to make this link between their airline and the space travel that must have been every child's aspiration back then. Presumably, its our turn to be on the go...

We recently visited the Olympia Art Centre in Kingston built by the late A.D. Scott, art collector and businessman. The concept of the centre was visionary, especially for a newly independent Jamaica that was still developing a visual arts tradition. The centre was envisaged as a place where artists and their audience could live, supported and surrounded by art. The main building comprises three floors under a magnificent fibreglass roof that allows light to flood the artwork inside. On the upper floor the mural 'Our heritage' painted by one of the centre's key founders Barrington Watson visualises Jamaica's history from its Taino Amerindian beginnings to Independence in 1962. Around the balconies of the lower floors contemporary paintings and sculptures are placed between the doorways that lead to the rented residential apartments.

Some fifty years after its establishment the centre bears all the optimism of its 1960s origins. The generosity of its space and the surrounding landscape remind us of a time when this was prime real estate on the edge of Kingston's thriving city. Although the city's hustle and bustle now surrounds it, the centre is still something of a haven for those interested in art from that buoyant era. Watch the video

The Red Bull can stands around 10 centimeters high. It’s a delicate looking object but its tensile strength is indicated by its steely like high-toned finish and distinctive red and blue markings like those of an American flag. Pressed between the palms or sliced with scissors its malleable which is why it lends itself easily to new shapes and forms. Its cylindrical shape means that it can balance upright, while its key-ring stopper, lend itself to Calder-like mobility. It’s versatile, and perhaps this is why it has proved popular the world over as a sculptural form. Or perhaps, in addition to all its material qualities, the signifiers that accompany this little can, such as youth, energy, party-life, style and a cosmopolitan wealth make it attractive to those who want to appear to be part of fashionable high culture. And since the product itself is relatively inexpensive and available in supermarkets, it’s easy enough to be part of that world on fewer dollars than a red stripe. 

It’s not surprising then, that the exhibition The Art of Can currently showing at Devon House featuring a range of artists and non-artists all working the same medium of this little can, is proving more successful than many art events this year. It’s beautifully catalogued, and sensitively mounted showing its more than 50 works to advantage. Apparently, the drink that claims a high energy boost has become popular enough for Jamaicans across the island to create whimsical and powerful red bull forms, including cars, costumes, masks, townscapes and gardens. Red Bull demonstrates that there is an art to making art work for you. It’s a shame other institutions do not have the stamina to be just as bullish.

In 1937, the purchase of Edna Manley’s Negro Aroused (1935) as the foundation piece for a modern collection was a significant marker that reflected Jamaican’s new sense of self and pride even before independence. Back then, art and representation were at the forefront of debates about identity and how to envisage and portray a sense of Jamaicanness. Later, as a new nation our culture builders viewed the establishment of a National Gallery as a matter of urgency and the collection’s expansion and relocation to Kingston’s waterfront was greatly applauded.

Now, our politicians seem concerned with other signifiers of nationhood such as Usain Bolt’s Puma training shoes, Bob Marley’s reggae and even Air Jamaica’s dwindling champagne service. At a time when friends of the National Gallery’s Facebook site vastly outweigh visitor numbers to its now contentious downtown location, maybe we need to think again about how we promote and display our national imagery. Do we really need a physical space with light bills and other financial burdens? Or should we just invest in a good scanner, digitize the collection, and curate our exhibitions online?

Vintage photography evokes nostalgia because it represents time past: moments from history that give the appearance of a simpler life. Models pose, freezing both time and their smiles because back then, there was no such thing as an 'instant' picture. But the innocence and simplicity of these grainy images belie the very complicated technical processes photographer's required to capture the likeness of their subjects. A knowledge of chemicals, an understanding of light and a discerning eye were just a few of the essential skills. It was this combination of art form and science that helped to define places like the colonial Caribbean when photography was first invented after the 1840s, and it should not be surprising that promotion of this 'new world' to audiences in Europe meant that the technology of photography has flourished here since then.

A recent exhibition mounted at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination Gallery, the Queens Park Gallery and Zemicon Gallery in Barbados and curated by C. M. Harclyde Walcott featured the photography of seven of that country's most important artists and speaks to the island's long association with this medium. Titled Seven Photographers, the exhibition (that closed recently) showcased the works of Willie Alleyne, Gordon Brooks, Ronnie Carrington, Felix Kerr, Cyprian La Touché (Jr.) Cecil Marshall and Percé Tappin. For those who missed the show, a publication that lavishly documents their photographs was designed to accompany the show. It is a handsome and generous catalogue of the exhibition that can obviously stand alone as a book and fill a gap in documentation of that art form in Barbados.