Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite

April 11–September 1, 2019

About the Exhibition

On view were the iconic images that amplified one of the most influential cultural movements of the 1960s: “Black Is Beautiful.” Featuring over forty photographs of black women and men with natural hair and clothes that reclaimed their African roots, Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite, organized by Aperture Foundation, New York, was the first-ever major exhibition dedicated to this key figure of the second Harlem Renaissance.

Inspired by the writings of activist and black nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite (b. 1938) combined his political vision with the medium of photography to effect social change. Along with his brother Elombe Brath (1936–2014), Brathwaite founded two organizations that were instrumental in realizing his vision: African Jazz-Art Society and Studios, a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers, in 1956; and Grandassa Models, a modeling group for black women, in 1962. Working with AJASS and Grandassa Models, Brathwaite organized fashion shows featuring clothing designed by the models themselves, created stunning portraits of jazz luminaries, and captured behind-the-scenes photographs of the black arts community.

During an era when segregation still prevailed across the United States, Brathwaite’s work challenged mainstream beauty standards that excluded women of color. His photographs celebrated black beauty and instilled a sense of pride throughout the community. Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite demonstrated how the medium of photography is an essential cultural tool in the dissemination of new visual paradigms and political ideas.

Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite is organized by Aperture Foundation, New York, and Kwame S. Brathwaite.

About the Artist

Born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx, New York, Brathwaite spent most of his adult life in and around New York City. In the late 1950s, Brathwaite and his brother Elombe Brath became active in the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement led by Carlos Cooks. At the same time, the brothers regularly produced and promoted concerts and art shows at such venues as Club 845 in the Bronx and Small’s Paradise in Harlem, while Brathwaite photographed the events.

Throughout the 1960s, Brathwaite contributed photography to leading black publications such as the Amsterdam News, City Sun, and Daily Challenge. By the 1970s, Brathwaite was a leading concert photographer, helping to shape the images of major celebrities including Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, James Brown, and Muhammad Ali. Brathwaite wrote about and photographed such landmark events as the Motown Revue at the Apollo in 1963, WattStax ’72 in 1972, the Jackson 5’s first trip to Africa in 1974, and the Festival in Zaire in 1974.

Today Brathwaite resides in New York City. He is married to Sikolo Brathwaite, a former Grandassa model whom he met through their work together. She continues to advocate for the empowerment of black women today. Their son, Kwame S. Brathwaite, is currently the director of the Kwame Brathwaite Archive in Pasadena, California. Brathwaite is represented by Philip Martin Gallery in Culver City, California.