ACASA Tribute to Polly Nooter Roberts

Friends, by now you may have heard the very sad news: Polly Nooter Roberts has passed. She went peacefully in her sleep the night of September 11-12 after living with stage four metastatic breast cancer (MBC) for more than eight years. She is mother to three and grandmother, daughter of Nancy and Robert H. Nooter, and the loving wife of Dr. Allen Roberts, with whom she regularly forged new research. We extend our deep sympathies to the Nooter and Roberts families.

A recipient of ACASA’s 2017 Leadership Award, Dr. Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts was a giant in the field of African Arts. She was Professor of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA and Consulting Curator for African Arts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). She brought a deep appreciation for artistic achievement to her work and great sensitivity to the weight of history on people’s lives. Her brilliant research spanned the continent and its diasporas, but she is best known for concentrated studies of Luba art in the DRC and Sufi arts in Senegal. Institutions and even nations awarded Polly’s ability to translate philosophy, history, and art; strikingly, in 2007 she was decorated as a Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters by the Republic of France for her promotion of francophone African art. She served ACASA as President and brought our Triennial to the island of St. Thomas, our first venue outside of North America, in 2001. The volume and value of her work is so great that it is impossible to summarize here. Her legacy to critical curatorial practice is profound.

Polly lived a life of purpose and was widely known for her generosity. She described her illness as a “detour” in life and saw it as an opportunity for growth. A leader by nature, Polly embraced the opportunity to advance the research of Simms/Mann UCLA Center for Oncology and aid the community of women living with MBC in Los Angeles. She brought the same positive energy to those endeavors that she brought to our wide community.

Polly radiated warmth. She gave each person her undivided attention, respecting the moment that an encounter offers, and she brought out the best in each of us. She was a woman of grace, poise, and elegance. We will miss her.