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"Black Is Beautiful" Exhibit Honors Photographer Whose Work Inspired A Movement

Over 40 large-scale color and black-and-white photographs in the exhibition document how Kwame Brathwaite helped change America's cultural and political landscape by combining art, music and politics.
“Black Is Beautiful” Exhibit Honors Photographer Whose Work Inspired A  Movement
Courtesy Kwame Brathwaite and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles

The work of legendary photographer Kwame Brathwaite helped launch and popularize one of the most influential cultural movements of the 1960s, known as the “Black Is Beautiful” movement.

Brathwaite’s striking photographs, which chronicled the evolution of Black pride and talent and fueled this important movement, are now on display in a New York Historical Society exhibition.

Over 40 large-scale color and black-and-white photographs in “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” document how Brathwaite helped change America’s cultural and political landscape during the era known as the Second Harlem Renaissance.

“Black Is Beautiful” Exhibit Honors Photographer Whose Work Inspired A  Movement
Kwame Brathwaite, Sikolo Brathwaite, African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), Harlem, ca. 1968; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019)

It’s part of a traveling exhibition and the first major one dedicated to Braithwaite and his influential work. He used his art to celebrate the African American community and identity, as well as to reflect the vibrancy of Harlem’s jazz scene, businesses and events.

“His work is a testament to the power of a visual medium to impact the movement towards racial equity,” New York Historical Society President and CEO Dr. Louise Mirrer said in a statement.

“We hope Kwame Brathwaite’s photographs inspire a deeper understanding of the Black empowerment movement and how its legacy resonates today,” she added.

Braithwaite was born in Brooklyn in 1938 to Caribbean immigrants from Barbados and raised in the Bronx. The Pan-Africanist teachings of activist and Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey inspired him and co-founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and the Grandassa Models with his brother Elombe.

“Black Is Beautiful” Exhibit Honors Photographer Whose Work Inspired A  Movement
Kwame Brathwaite, Photo shoot at a public school for one of the AJASS-associated modeling groups that emulated the Grandassa Models and began to embrace natural hairstyles. Harlem, ca. 1966; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019)

In his work, he explored Pan-Africanism and sought to create new beauty standards that genuinely embraced and celebrated Blackness, starting right in his hometown of New York City.

“My father was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx and resides in Manhattan. These images introduce us to the origin of the Black is Beautiful movement that started in Harlem and show us how art, politics, music, and fashion combined to inspire, empower and change the status quo,” said his son Kwame S. Brathwaite, director of the Kwame Brathwaite Archive.

“Black Is Beautiful” Exhibit Honors Photographer Whose Work Inspired A  Movement
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)

“Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” opened on August 19 and will be displayed at the New York Historical Society in Manhattan through January 15, 2023.