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Detroit Institute of Arts Presents Works by Photographer and Activist in Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite

Updated Sep 16, 2021

Exhibition highlights the life and career of Brathwaite in the 1950s and 1960s and his influence on the “Black is Beautiful” movement

This fall, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), in collaboration with Aperture traveling exhibitions, presents Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite featuring more than 40 black-and-white and color works, many large scale, by Brathwaite, an influential activist, photographer and co-founder of the African Jazz-Arts Society and Studios (AJASS). Open October 8, 2021, through January 16, 2022, Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite features studio portraits and behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community during the 1960s, including Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, this show is an exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work, on display for the first time at the DIA. This exhibition is free with museum admission, which is always free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

Inspired by the writings of activist and Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite, along with his brother, Elombe Brath, founded the AJASS, a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers. Black Is Beautiful includes photographs featuring members AJASS, as well as jazz musicians who the group promoted, in addition to photographs on the streets of Harlem, New York, and Black-owned businesses found there, along with portraits of AJASS members wearing African-inspired clothing and natural hair styles. AJASS would later organize Black fashion shows and found the Grandassa models, a Black modeling troupe.

In the early 1960s, the “Black is Beautiful” movement gained popularity as a response to the lack of Black beauty standards in U.S. and Western culture. In 1962, AJASS organized and debuted “Naturally ‘62,” a fashion show dedicated to challenging Western predominantly white beauty standards which featured the Grandessa Models—the subject of much of the show's contents—a modeling agency for Black women. Due to its popularity in Harlem, the fashion show was taken on the road to other cities in the U.S., including Detroit, where in 1963, Detroit nightclub Mr. Kelley’s Lounge, hosted “Naturally 63.”

Nancy Barr, the DIA’s James Pearson Duffy Curator of Photography and Department Head, worked with Aperture to bring the exhibition to Detroit. She notes, “through these remarkable photographs, Brathwaite brings to life the stories and history of Black culture in America when creative individuals used music, art, and fashion as catalysts for activism.” Brathwaite’s love of jazz inspired YouTube and Spotify playlists curated by Barr for the DIA. Links to these and other online offerings, including educator resources, will be available on the museum’s website and social media channels.

The exhibition has three sections that highlight Brathwaite’s photographic interests from the late 1950s through 1970. Part one features portraits of Brathwaite and members of AJASS and follows the photographer’s work made at Harlem jazz clubs and festivals in New York City. In another section of the exhibition, “Think Black, Buy Black,” Brathwaite celebrates this Garvey-inspired movement with photographs of people and places where Black economic independence, political consciousness and self-representation can be seen. His portraits of friends and AJASS members in African-inspired dress and with African art as well as photographs of shops and storefronts where Black-owned businesses where active are included. The Grandassa Models are a large part of the exhibition and are the focus of its third section that features studio fashion portraits, promotional poster designs, album cover art with photographs of Grandassa models by Brathwaite, as well as original African-inspired jewelry and clothing, and images taken at the Naturally shows.

Major support for the exhibition has been provided by Cadillac. “We are honored to drive authentic works by audacious individuals,” said Juanita Slappy, head of multicultural marketing at Cadillac. “At Cadillac, we champion big dreams and bold ambitions and through the support of organizations like the Detroit Institute of Arts and creatives like Kwame Brathwaite, we are taking an important step in advancing equity and representation.” Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite is organized Aperture, New York and Kwame S. Brathwaite.

The exhibition and the accompanying Aperture publication are made possible, in part, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Photographic Arts Council Los Angeles. All photographs are courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles. 

At the Detroit Institute of Arts, major support is generously provided by Cadillac.

Additional support is provided by Lisa Pernick and Bruce Israel, Maureen and Roy S. Roberts, and Rhonda D. Welburn.

 

Exhibition highlights the life and career of Brathwaite in the 1950s and 1960s and his influence on the “Black is Beautiful” movement

This fall, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), in collaboration with Aperture traveling exhibitions, presents Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite featuring more than 40 black-and-white and color works, many large scale, by Brathwaite, an influential activist, photographer and co-founder of the African Jazz-Arts Society and Studios (AJASS). Open October 8, 2021, through January 16, 2022, Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite features studio portraits and behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community during the 1960s, including Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, this show is an exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work, on display for the first time at the DIA. This exhibition is free with museum admission, which is always free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

Inspired by the writings of activist and Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite, along with his brother, Elombe Brath, founded the AJASS, a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers. Black Is Beautiful includes photographs featuring members AJASS, as well as jazz musicians who the group promoted, in addition to photographs on the streets of Harlem, New York, and Black-owned businesses found there, along with portraits of AJASS members wearing African-inspired clothing and natural hair styles. AJASS would later organize Black fashion shows and found the Grandassa models, a Black modeling troupe.

In the early 1960s, the “Black is Beautiful” movement gained popularity as a response to the lack of Black beauty standards in U.S. and Western culture. In 1962, AJASS organized and debuted “Naturally ‘62,” a fashion show dedicated to challenging Western predominantly white beauty standards which featured the Grandessa Models—the subject of much of the show's contents—a modeling agency for Black women. Due to its popularity in Harlem, the fashion show was taken on the road to other cities in the U.S., including Detroit, where in 1963, Detroit nightclub Mr. Kelley’s Lounge, hosted “Naturally 63.”

Nancy Barr, the DIA’s James Pearson Duffy Curator of Photography and Department Head, worked with Aperture to bring the exhibition to Detroit. She notes, “through these remarkable photographs, Brathwaite brings to life the stories and history of Black culture in America when creative individuals used music, art, and fashion as catalysts for activism.” Brathwaite’s love of jazz inspired YouTube and Spotify playlists curated by Barr for the DIA. Links to these and other online offerings, including educator resources, will be available on the museum’s website and social media channels.

The exhibition has three sections that highlight Brathwaite’s photographic interests from the late 1950s through 1970. Part one features portraits of Brathwaite and members of AJASS and follows the photographer’s work made at Harlem jazz clubs and festivals in New York City. In another section of the exhibition, “Think Black, Buy Black,” Brathwaite celebrates this Garvey-inspired movement with photographs of people and places where Black economic independence, political consciousness and self-representation can be seen. His portraits of friends and AJASS members in African-inspired dress and with African art as well as photographs of shops and storefronts where Black-owned businesses where active are included. The Grandassa Models are a large part of the exhibition and are the focus of its third section that features studio fashion portraits, promotional poster designs, album cover art with photographs of Grandassa models by Brathwaite, as well as original African-inspired jewelry and clothing, and images taken at the Naturally shows.

Major support for the exhibition has been provided by Cadillac. “We are honored to drive authentic works by audacious individuals,” said Juanita Slappy, head of multicultural marketing at Cadillac. “At Cadillac, we champion big dreams and bold ambitions and through the support of organizations like the Detroit Institute of Arts and creatives like Kwame Brathwaite, we are taking an important step in advancing equity and representation.” Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite is organized Aperture, New York and Kwame S. Brathwaite.

The exhibition and the accompanying Aperture publication are made possible, in part, with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Photographic Arts Council Los Angeles. All photographs are courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles. 

At the Detroit Institute of Arts, major support is generously provided by Cadillac.

Additional support is provided by Lisa Pernick and Bruce Israel, Maureen and Roy S. Roberts, and Rhonda D. Welburn.