Over the next two weeks, ESSENCE will present TWENTY—three digital exhibits I curated celebrating excellence in the worlds of acting, art, and fashion. These galleries tell the stories of people of color who have stepped out on faith and paved the way for the next generations of artists and creators. I believe it is only by acknowledging our triumphs that we see what is possible and dream of what is next. Success acts as an inspiration that propels us forward.
In my best-selling book, Supreme Models: Iconic Black Women Who Revolutionized Fashion, I propose that Black models are the precursors to societal change. Each time a model of color breaks through, she redefines the standards of beauty. Everyone knows Iman, Naomi, and Tyra, but what about activist Bethann Hardison, trailblazer Helen Williams, and forever muse Karen Alexander? Or the new “It Girls” Adut Akech, Imaan Hammam, and Dilone who are setting international runways and the pages of top fashion magazines on fire with their modern multicultural beauty. I want to introduce you to TWENTY MODELS YOU SHOULD KNOW.
TWENTY LEGENDARY ACTRESSES is a group of women whose work continues to redefine the worlds of cinema, television, and theater. It’s not about who is the best. We’ll leave that to the Academy Awards, the Emmys, and the Tonys. It’s about the lasting impact of these women. This list of icons like Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, and Cicely Tyson, as well as young legends Halle Berry, Viola Davis, and Regina King, are women who made an indelible impact on the world through their talent and by using their voices to enact social change.
And finally, with temperatures dropping, the ongoing need for social distancing, and the holidays fast approaching, I will present the chicest list of books ever! 20 MUST OWN ART BOOKS FROM A – Z lists books that celebrate every area of excellence within the Black diaspora. From visual celebrations of the lives and work of celebrities Pharrell Williams and Rihanna to a celebration of Black style in Brown Bohemians and Dandy Lion. From the work of legendary photographers like Kwame Brathwaite, Gordon Parks, and Kehinde Wiley and beautiful representations of Black people in art and fashion in Supreme Models, The New Black Vanguard to Ebony: Covering Black America. These books celebrate the beauty and diversity that is the Black race. They are the gifts that keep on giving!
I couldn’t be more thrilled to contribute these lists of my favorite things to a magazine as historic as ESSENCE. As a child, I read my mother’s ESSENCE magazines from cover to cover, breathing in the beauty and wonder of the Black experience. I found inspiration in the pages of ESSENCE. I hope these galleries do that for a new generation of readers also.
See below for my third curated digital exhibit:
TWENTY MUST OWN ART BOOKS FROM A – Z
Brown Bohemians: Honoring the Light and Magic of Our Creative Community, by Vanessa Coore Vernon and Morgan Ashley
Brown Bohemians captures the essence and voice of an underrepresented demographic: creative people of color. Inspired by their unique tastes and experiences in fashion, lifestyle, and art, Brown Bohemians brings that viewpoint to print.
Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style, by Shantrelle P. Lewis
Dandy Lion celebrates individual dandy personalities, designers, tailors, movements, and events that define contemporary dandyism. Throughout the book, self-expression is communicated through personal style, clothing, shoes, hats, and swagger.
Ebony: Covering Black America, by Lavaille Lavette
Coming in February 2021, this tome celebrates the iconic magazine’s rich history, glamorous covers, groundbreaking cultural impact, and authentic Black American life coverage from its inception to the present.
I Can Make You Feel Good, by Tyler Mitchell
I Can Make You Feel Good is a 206-page celebration of photographer Tyler Mitchell’s distinctive vision of a Black utopia. The joyful collection of images continues Mitchell’s exploration of a new Black aesthetic. This journey, characterized by his use of glowing natural light, basks his community in optimism and hopefulness.
I Too Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100, by Wil Haygood
I Too Sing America offers a major survey on the visual art and material culture of the groundbreaking movement one hundred years after the Harlem Renaissance emerged as a creative force at the close of World War I. The book illuminates the era through paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, and contemporary documents.
Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem, by Michal Raz-Russo
Photographer Gordon Parks and writer Ralph Ellison collaborated on two historic photoessays, 1948’s “Harlem Is Nowhere,” and 1952’s “A Man Becomes Invisible.” Invisible Man is the first publication of Parks’ and Ellison’s collaboration on these two projects. This book provides an in-depth look at the artists’ shared vision of Black life in America.
While we were still recovering from him snatching our edges at the Brooklyn Museum in 2015, Wiley became the first Black openly gay artist to paint a presidential portrait with his regal portrayal of President Obama in 2018.
Kwame Brathwaite: Black is Beautiful, by Kwame S. Brathwaite
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.
Naomi. Updated Edition by Josh Baker
Originally published as a signed Collector’s Edition of 1,000 copies, this book gathers the very best of Naomi Campbell’s portfolio in an updated unlimited XL edition. It features photographs from Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Ellen von Unwerth, and Bruce Weber.
The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion, by Antwaun Sargent
The New Black Vanguard presents fifteen Black artists whose vibrant portraits and conceptual images fuse the genres of art and fashion photography in ways that break down long-established boundaries.
Pharrell: A Fish Doesn’t Know It’s Wet by Pharrell
This volume documents the continuing adventures in art and design of one of the most influential figures in contemporary music and popular culture. Lavishly illustrated with 250 photographs and illustrations, this book features Pharrell Williams’s prolific body of work in a graphic language all his own.
The Rihanna Book by Rihanna
Rihanna invites you into her world with this stunning visual autobiography.
“It’s a piece of art that I am really proud of…” — Rihanna
Separate Cinema: The First 100 Years of Black Poster Art by John Kisch and Tony Nourmand
This volume is a celebration of the first 100 years of Black film poster art. These images recount the Black film industry’s diverse and historic journey from the earliest days of Hollywood to the present day, accompanied by an afterword by director Spike Lee.
Street Culture by Seleen Saleh
Street Culture is a stunning collection of photographs representing men and women of color who exhibit a unique style. Seleen Saleh’s photos reveal individuality, fearlessness, and creativity in the most vibrant beings who collectively represent street style.
Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power by Mark Godfrey and Zoé Whitley
Soul of a Nation surveys 1963–83, the crucial period in American art history, bringing to light previously neglected histories of 20th-century Black artists, including Sam Gilliam, Jack Whitten, David Hammons, Barkley L. Hendricks, Senga Nengudi, Noah Purifoy, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Charles White, and Frank Bowling.
Supreme Models: Iconic Black Women Who Revolutionized Fashion by Marcellas Reynolds
The first-ever art book celebrating top Black models, filled with revealing essays, interviews, and stunning photographs detailing their most memorable covers and editorials. Supreme Models features more than 70 women from the last 75 years.
Through the African American Lens: Double Exposure by National Museum of African American History and Culture
Through the African American Lens is a collection of photographs revealing how African Americans have used activism, community, and culture to fight for social justice and create a better life. Featuring fifty photographs by famous photographers such as Spider Martin, Gordon Parks, Ernest C. Withers, Wayne F. Miller, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Unseen: Unpublished Black History from the New York Times Photo Archives by Dana Canedy
Hundreds of stunning images from Black history have long been buried in The New York Times archives. None of them were published by The Times—until now. Unseen uncovers these never-before-published photographs and tells the stories behind them.
Woman of Color by LaTonya Yvette
LaTonya Yvette, the blogger, and stylist behind the eponymous site, is unapologetically candid about life’s trials, including motherhood, love, death, and racism. Her first book, Woman of Color, is part memoir, part lifestyle guide—packed with moving essays, gorgeous original and archival photographs, and practical style and beauty advice.
Young, Gifted and Black: A New Generation of Artists by Antwaun Sargent
What’s new, now and next from contemporary black artists? Edited by Antwaun Sargent (author of The New Black Vanguard), Young, Gifted, and Black draws from this collection to shed new light on contemporary artists of African descent.