Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful
Photographs by Kwame Brathwaite. Text by Tanisha C. Ford and Deborah Willis.
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In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite used his photography to popularize the political slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” This monograph—the first ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s remarkable career—tells the story of a key, but under-recognized, 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 (1962). AJASS was a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers; Grandassa Models was a modeling agency for black women, founded to challenge white beauty standards. From stunning studio portraits of the Grandassa Models to behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community, including Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and Miles Davis, this book offers a long-overdue exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work
Number of pages: 144
Number of images: 16
Publication date: 2019-05-01
Measurements: 8.5 x 10.5 x 0.75 inches
“From Beyoncé to Barack Obama, it’s hard to think of a black figure who does not owe their prominence, in some measure, to the ethos of ‘Black is Beautiful’” —Ekow Eshun, Financial Times
“The Brooklyn-born photographer spent his career working to elevate natural black beauty during a time when the fashion industry was resistant.” —the Guardian
“Together, the exhibition and the monograph are important footnotes to a slogan that has become both a state of mind and a revolutionary movement.” —Hyperallergic
“Through Brathwaite’s delicate and compassionate eye, the black female form, unadulterated in appearance, gave a new visual language that helped heal centuries-old white-supremacist wounds. The Grandassa models were an idealization of a black female utopia, which reinvigorated a limitless Africa that carried all the dialects, languages, accents, and subcultures within one womb. Brathwaite did not depict the black woman as what she could be, but as what she had always been, her beauty a constant and not something to be fixed.” —Morgan Jerkins, Artsy
Kwame Brathwaite is represented by Philip Martin in Los Angeles. Beginning in the early 1960s, Brathwaite photographed stories for black publications such as the New York Amsterdam News, City Sun, and Daily Challenge, helping set the stage for the Black Arts and Black Power movements. By the 1970s, Brathwaite was one of the era’s top concert photographers, shaping the images of such public figures as Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, James Brown, and Muhammad Ali. Brathwaite wrote about and photographed such landmark events as the the Motortown Revue at the Apollo (1963); Wattstax ’72 (1972); the Jackson 5’s first trip to Africa (1974); and the festival “Zaire ’74,” which accompanied the famous Foreman-Ali fight, the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Recent acquirers of Brathwaite’s work include the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College.
Tanisha C. Ford is an award-winning writer, cultural critic, and associate professor of Africana studies and history at the University of Delaware. She is the author of Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul (2015), which won the 2016 Organization of American Historians’ Liberty Legacy Foundation Award for best book on civil rights history. She was featured in Aperture’s Fall 2017 issue, “Elements of Style,” among other publications, including Elle, the Atlantic, the Root, the Feminist Wire, Cognoscenti, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Ebony, NPR’s Code Switch, and New York Magazine: The Cut. Ford is a cofounder of TEXTURES, a pop-up material culture lab, creating and curating content on fashion and the built environment.
Deborah Willis is an artist, writer, and curator, as well as professor and chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. She has been a Richard D. Cohen Fellow of African and African American Art History at the Hutchins Center, Harvard University (2014), a Guggenheim Fellow (2005), a Fletcher Fellow (2005), and a MacArthur Fellow (2000). Willis received the NAACP Image Award in 2014 for her coauthored book Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery (2013). Her other notable publications include Black Venus 2010: They Called Her “Hottentot” (2010), Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present (2009), the award-winning Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs (2009), The Black Female Body: A Photographic History (2002), and Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present (2002).