Kwame Brathwaite
Biography

Untitled (Brenda Deaver)
c. 1965, printed 2017
archival pigment print, unframed
AJASS_41_008


Size one:
15 x 15 in, 38.1 x 38.1 cm (image);
16 x 16 in., 40.5 x 40.5 cm framed
Size two:
30 x 30 in, 76.2 x 76.2 cm (image);
31 x 31 in, 78.75 x 78.75 cm framed

Untitled (Grandassa Models, Merton Simpson Gallery)
c. 1967, printed 2017
Archival pigment print
AJASS_19_008


Size one:
15 x 15 in, 38.1 x 38.1 cm (image);
16 x 16 in., 40.5 x 40.5 cm framed
Size two:
30 x 30 in, 76.2 x 76.2 cm (image);
31 x 31 in, 78.75 x 78.75 cm framed


Untitled (Nomsa with Earrings)
1964, printed 2017
Archival pigment print, framed
AJASS_Loc_36_003


Size one:
15 x 15 in, 38.1 x 38.1 cm (image);
16 x 16 in., 40.5 x 40.5 cm framed
Size two:
30 x 30 in, 76.2 x 76.2 cm (image);
31 x 31 in, 78.75 x 78.75 cm framed


Untitled (Sikolo with Carolee Prince Designs)
1968, printed 2017
Archival pigment print, framed
AJASS_Loc_99_002

Size one:
15 x 15 in, 38.1 x 38.1 cm (image);
16 x 16 in., 40.5 x 40.5 cm framed
Size two:
30 x 30 in, 76.2 x 76.2 cm (image);
31 x 31 in, 78.75 x 78.75 cm framed


Untitled (Photo shoot at a school for one of the many modeling groups who had begun to embrace natural hairstyles in the 1960s)
1966, printed 2017
Archival pigment print
AJASS_Loc46_004

Size one:
15 x 15 in, 38.1 x 38.1 cm (image);
16 x 16 in., 40.5 x 40.5 cm framed
Size two:
30 x 30 in, 76.2 x 76.2 cm (image);
31 x 31 in, 78.75 x 78.75 cm framed




Biography

Born 1938  in New York, NY
Lives and works in New York, NY

Kwame Brathwaite and his brother, Elombe Brath, popularized the phrase “Black is Beautiful” beginning in the late 1950s and and early 1960s. They did so through their writing, through Brathwaite’s photographs, and through the activies of two artist/activist organizations they helped co-found: African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and Grandassa Models.

Shortly after graduating from high school, Brathwaite and his brother Elombe Brath became active in the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement (ANPM) led by Carlos Cooks. They were also involved in the early struggle in Southern Africa, forming in 1961 their Bronx-based South-West Africa Relief Committee to support Sam Nujoma’s South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) and later, the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN). Parallel to these political activities the two brothers were regularly producing concerts—a who’s-who of top Jazz figures of the time –at such venues as Club 845 in the Bronx and Small’s Paradise in Harlem. Brathwaite took on the role of photographing these concerts, promoting them, and organizing the cultural activities that would often be held during the concerts, such as art shows and African dance performances.

The 1961 Garvey Day Celebration’s “The Miss Natural Standard of Beauty Contest,” was a catalyzing moment for the brothers who saw clearly that the same models who eschewed make-up and wore their hair ‘natural’ for the contest would, by the following Sunday (when they came to pick up their prize money), have straightened their hair in order to feel comfortable going back to school, work and their everyday lives. Brathwaite and the other members of AJASS felt that African Americans needed to feel comfortable in their own skins and to be proud to display their natural beauty. He and Brath led the charge to establish studio and office space next to the Apollo Theater for AJASS, and started the Grandassa Models (named after ANPM leader Carlos Cooks’s term for the African continent, “Grandassaland”).

AJASS’s first fashion show, “Naturally '62,” headlined by Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach, and initially planned as a one-time event, proved so popular that a second sold out show was held that same night to accommodate the crowd. When traveling to other cities for concerts, AJASS members Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach helped spread the word and make contacts with other progressive organizations that lead to “Naturally” show bookings in their respective cities. In February 1963, AJASS followed with shows at Robert’s Show Club in Chicago and Mr. Kelly’s in Detroit and continued to spread the “Black Is Beautiful” theme nationwide.

Brathwaite’s regular reporting and pictorials for leading black publications such as The Amsterdam News, City Sun and The Daily Challenge beginning in the early 60's helped set the stage for the Black Arts Movement and the Black Power movement. By the 1970's, Brathwaite was one of the 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 Motown Revue” at the Apollo (1963); “WattStax ’72” (1972); The Jackson 5’s first trip to Africa (1974); and the “Festival in Zaire” (1974, which accompanied the famous Foreman-Ali fight, “The Rumble in the Jungle”).

Elombe Brath died in 2014. He worked as a graphic artist at WABC-TV and served as a consultant for late television host Gil Noble’s groundbreaking WABC-TV show, “Like It Is.” The Elombe Brath Foundation was established in 2014 to continue the legacy of Elombe’s work.


News & Press

Heinrich, Will. “What to See in New York Art Galleries This Week: ‘This Synthetic Moment’,” New York Times, February 21, 2018.

Article: NNadi, Chioma. “How One Photographer Captured the Soul of the ‘Black Is Beautiful’ Movement,” Vogue, February 2, 2018.

Talk: “Black Is Beautiful": Fashion and Consciousness, Panelists: Kwame S. Brathwaite (son of the artist and Director of the Archive); Tanisha Ford (historian); and Mimi Plange (designer), February 6, 6;30pm, Museum of the City of New York, NY.


Exhibition: “This Synthetic Moment,” curated by David Hartt, includes Liz Johnson Artur, James Barnor, Kwame Brathwaite, David Hartt, Zoe Leonard, Christopher Williams, David Nolan Gallery, New York, NY, through March 10, 2018.

Event: Kwame Brathwaite to be honored at "Elements of Style: the 2017 Aperture Gala," October 30, 2017.

Exhibiton and Catalog: Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip, Museum of the City of New York, New York, NY, through April 1, 2018. Catalog details here

Article: Cotter, Holland. "In ‘Black Power!,’ Art’s Political Punch and Populist Reach," New York Times, April 6, 2017.

Exhibiton:"Black Power!" Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, NY, through December 30, 2017

Article: Hyland, Véronique. "8 Runway Shows That Pushed Fashion Forward," New York Magazine, May 2016.

Catalog: Ford, Tanisha C. Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul. University of North Carolina Press,  Chapel Hill, NC, pp. 41-66.