Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite will be on view at the Reynolda House Museum of American Art from February 5 to May 8. Black Is Beautiful is the first major exhibition to focus on this central figure of the second Harlem Renaissance whose art popularized the “Black Is Beautiful” cultural movement born in the 1960s in the United States.
Through more than forty iconic photographs of black men and women with natural hair and clothing who have reclaimed their African roots, Black Is Beautiful reflects how Brathwaite – inspired by the writings of renowned black activist and nationalist Marcus Garvey – used his art to effect social change in the late 1950s and 1960s.
“It was a time when people were protesting race, class and human rights injustices around the world. I focused on perfecting my craft so I could use my gift to inspire thought, relay ideas and tell stories about our struggle, our work, our liberation,” Brathwaite said.
Together with his brother Elombe Brath (1936-2014), Brathwaite – known as the “keeper of the images” – founded two organizations that were instrumental in realizing his vision: the African Jazz-Art Society and Studios, a collective of artists, playwrights, designers and dancers, in 1956; and Grandassa Models, a group of black women’s models, in 1962. Brathwaite also helped organize fashion shows featuring clothes designed by the models themselves, created stunning portraits of jazz luminaries, and captured behind-the-scenes photographs of the black arts community, including Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln and Miles Davis.
At a time when segregation was prevalent in the United States, Brathwaite’s work is notable for challenging traditional beauty standards that excluded people of color and for addressing how white conceptions of beauty and body image affected black women.
“At Reynolda, we strive to provide inclusive and meaningful experiences that celebrate and connect every voice,” said Allison Perkins, Executive Director of Reynolda House. “To that end, we are extremely grateful to have the opportunity to showcase the work of a photographer and a social force that empowered an important global movement in Black history.”
The eight-site national tour, organized by Aperture, of Black Is Beautiful was launched in 2019 to critical acclaim. After Reynolda, he will continue at the New York Historical Society and then at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Reynolda House is the only venue for the exhibition in North Carolina.
In addition to Brathwaite’s photographs, the exhibition will feature clothes worn in fashion shows, as well as a selection of ephemeral materials. Jazz music of the era will also play in the gallery.