Kwame Brathwaite, Sikolo Brathwaite wearing headphones designed by Carolee Prince, African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), Harlem, ca. 1968; by Kwame Brathwaite: Black is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019)
On view August 19, 2022 through January 15, 2023, the acclaimed traveling exhibit comes to New York and showcases the life and work of a key figure in the Black Power movement
Beginning August 19, 2022, the New-York Historical Society is the exclusive New York location for the traveling exhibit Black is beautiful: the photography of Kwame Brathwaite, the first major show dedicated to this key figure who helped launch and popularize the “Black Is Beautiful” movement of the 1960s. On view until January 15, 2023, the exhibition presents 40 color and black and white photographs large-scale works that document how Brathwaite helped change America’s political and cultural landscape during the so-called Second Harlem Renaissance, using his art to affirm black physical beauty, celebrate community and African identity. American and reflect the vibrancy of Harlem’s jazz scene, local businesses and events.
“We are thrilled to bring this exhibition to New York, the hometown of Kwame Brathwaite and the location of many of his most powerful images,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of New York. Historical. “His work is a testament to the power of visual media to impact the movement towards racial equity. We hope Kwame Brathwaite’s photographs will inspire a deeper understanding of the Black empowerment movement and how his legacy resonates today.
“This stage of the traveling exhibit is particularly meaningful because it is a New York story,” said Kwame S. Brathwaite. “My dad was born in Brooklyn, grew up in the Bronx and lives in Manhattan. These images introduce us to the origin of the Black is Beautiful movement which began in Harlem and show us how art, politics, music and fashion have combined to inspire, empower and change the status quo.
The exhibition chronicles Brathwaite’s development as an activist and artist. Born in Brooklyn in 1938 and raised in the Bronx, Brathwaite was still a teenager when he saw the gruesome photographs of Emmett Till in his open casket published in Jet magazine in 1955. For Brathwaite, as for so many people, the impact of these photographs was decisive. As the son of a Caribbean American family, Brathwaite was also heavily influenced by the ongoing Pan-Africanist legacy of Jamaican-born activist Marcus Garvey.
Along with his brother Elombe, Brathwaite founded the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS) and organized concerts featuring jazz luminaries such as Miles Davis, Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach. In addition to promoting music events, the group spread a message of economic empowerment and political awareness in the Harlem community, emphasizing the power of self-presentation and style. “Think Black, Buy Black” has become a rallying cry.
In the 1960s, Brathwaite and her collective also sought to address how white conceptions of beauty and body image affected black women and culture. To do this, they popularized the transformative idea “Black Is Beautiful” and founded Grandassa Models, a group of black women from diverse backgrounds in the community who embraced natural hairstyles and their African ancestry. The modeling troupe sought to counter both the lean, androgynous figure made famous by 1960s British supermodels Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy and the ubiquity of lighter-skinned, straight-haired black models in black-owned publications. as Ebony. Along with striking photographs of Grandassa models, the exhibit features several dresses and jewelry worn by women.
A new audio guide available on the Bloomberg Connects app is special for the New-York Historical exhibit. The audio provides context on the “Black Is Beautiful” movement, the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios, and the Grandassa patterns. The audio guide also explores other topics explored in the exhibit, including jazz, black activism, natural beauty, fashion, and Harlem during the time period depicted in Brathwaite’s photographs.
Organized by Aperture Foundation in partnership with Kwame S. Brathwaite, Brathwaite’s son and director of the Kwame Brathwaite Archives, the photographs, mostly taken in Harlem and the Bronx, tell the story of a movement and an era. Following its presentation at New-York Historical, the exhibition travels to the University of Alabama at Birmingham for the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts in February 2023.
The exhibition is accompanied by the first monograph dedicated to Kwame Brathwaite. With essays by Tanisha C. Ford and Deborah Willis and over 80 images, Kwame Brathwaite: Black is beautiful (Aperture, 2019) offers a long-awaited exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work and is available on the NYHistory Store.
About Kwame Brathwaite
Kwame Brathwaite (born in Brooklyn, New York, 1938) lives and works in New York. His photographs have been included in solo and group exhibitions at the Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles; David Nolan Gallery, New York; and the Museum of the City of New York; and published in Openingthe New Yorker, New York Timesand New York magazine. Brathwaite’s photographs are held in public and private collections, including those of the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois; Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA; Museum of the City of New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Organized by the Aperture Foundation, Black is beautiful: the photography of Kwame Brathwaite premiered at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles in 2019.
On Wednesday, October 19, photographer Kwame Brathwaite Jr. and historian Tanisha Ford with moderator Khalil Gibran Muhammad discuss the exhibit and the legacy of the exhibited photographs. Special programs for families related to the exhibition will take place during the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. Private group tours can also be organized throughout the exhibition.
Major support for Black is beautiful: the photography of Kwame Brathwaite at New York Historical is provided by Bank of America and Agnes Gund. The exhibition and accompanying publication Aperture are made possible, in part, through the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Photographic Arts Council Los Angeles. Exhibits at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with support from the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.
About the New York Historical Society
Discover 400 years of history through groundbreaking exhibits, immersive films, and thought-provoking conversations between renowned historians and public figures at the New-York Historical Society, New York’s premier museum. A great destination for history since 1804, the Patricia D. Klingenstein Museum and Library conveys the stories of the diverse populations of the city and country, expanding our understanding of who we are as Americans and how we have become. Always up to the challenge of bringing little or unknown stories to light, New-York Historical will soon inaugurate a new annex housing its Academy for American Democracy as well as the American LGBTQ+ Museum. These latest efforts to help shape the future by documenting the past join New York Historical’s DiMenna Children’s History Museum and Women’s History Center. Digital exhibitions, applications and our For the ages podcast allow visitors from around the world to dive deeper into the story. Join us on nyhistory.org or at @nyhistory on Facebook, Twitter, instagram, Youtubeand tumblr.