In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite (born Brooklyn, New York, 1938) used photography to popularize the political slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” This exhibition—the first ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s remarkable career—tells the story of a key figure of the second Harlem Renaissance. Inspired by the writings of activist and Black nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite, along with his older brother, Elombe Brath, founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and the Grandassa Models. AJASS was a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers. Grandassa Models—the subject of much of this show’s contents—was a modeling agency for Black women, founded to challenge white beauty standards. From stunning studio portraits to behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community, including Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, this show offers a long-overdue exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work.
This exhibition is organized by Aperture, New York and Kwame S. Brathwaite.
Funding for the exhibition Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite and the accompanying Aperture publication are made possible, in part, by generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Photographic Arts Council Los Angeles.
The Blanton’s presentation is organized by Claire Howard, Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art.
Kwame Brathwaite, Sikolo Brathwaite wearing a headpiece designed by Carolee Prince, African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), Harlem, circa 1968 (detail); from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019), Courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles