AEIVA Presents Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful

Known as the “keeper of the images,” Kwame Brathwaite deployed his photography from the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s as an agent of social change. Born in Brooklyn to a Caribbean American family and raised in the Bronx, Brathwaite traces his artistic and political sensibilities to his youth. After seeing the horrific images of Emmett Till published in Jet magazine in 1955, Brathwaite and his brother Elombe Brath turned to art and political activism, absorbing the ideas of the Jamaican-born activist Marcus Garvey, who promoted a Pan-Africanist vision for black economic liberation and freedom.

Kwame and Elombe founded the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), a collective of artists and creatives that organized jazz concerts in clubs around Harlem and the Bronx, featuring luminaries such as Miles Davis, Abbey Lincoln, and Max Roach. In addition to promoting musical events, the group advanced a message of economic empowerment and political consciousness in the Harlem community, emphasizing the power of self-presentation and style. “Think Black, Buy Black” became a rallying cry. In the 1960s, Brathwaite and his collective also sought to address how white conceptions of beauty and body image affected black women. To do so they popularized the transformative idea “Black Is Beautiful” and founded the Grandassa Models, a modeling troupe of locally cast women who appeared in annual fashion shows at Harlem’s Apollo Theater.

This exhibition is organized by Aperture, New York and Kwame S. Brathwaite. It is curated by Kwame S. Brathwaite and Michael Famighetti.

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 Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts presentation is organized by Tina Ruggieri, Assistant Curator.

  1. Kwame Brathwaite, “Sikolo Brathwaite wearing a headpiece designed by Carolee Prince, African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), Harlem,” ca. 1968; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019). Courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles
  2. Kwame Brathwaite, “Self-portrait, African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS),” Harlem, ca. 1964; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019). Courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles
  3. Kwame Brathwaite, “Man smoking in a ballroom, Harlem,” ca. 1962; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019). Courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles
  4. Kwame Brathwaite, “Grandassa Model onstage, Apollo Theater, Harlem,” ca. 1968; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019). Courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles

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