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Photography of Kwame Brathwaite April 11 at Skirball Center

‘Black is Beautiful’

OW Staff Writer | 2/14/2019, midnight

The Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., will host April 11 through Sept. 1 “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite,” the first exhibition to focus on this key—and until now under-recognized—figure of the second Harlem Renaissance.

Through more than 40 iconic images, “Black Is Beautiful” will illuminate how in the late 1950s and 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite (b. 1938) used his art to popularize “Black Is Beautiful,” now considered one of the most influential cultural movements of that era. The exhibition is organized by Aperture Foundation and will make its national debut at the Skirball.

Inspired by the writings of famed activist and black nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite harnessed the power of art, music, and fashion to effect social change. Along with his brother Elombe Brath (1936–2014), he founded two organizations that were instrumental in realizing his vision: the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers, in 1956; and Grandassa Models, a modeling agency for black women, in 1962. Brathwaite organized fashion shows showcasing 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.During an era when segregation prevailed across the United States, Brathwaite’s body of work is remarkable for challenging mainstream beauty standards that excluded people of color. His photographs of African American women and men with natural hair and clothes that reclaimed and honored their African roots instilled a sense of pride throughout the community. In addition to Brathwaite’s photographs, the exhibition will display several garments worn during the fashion shows, as well as a selection of ephemeral materials.Brathwaite’s son, Kwame S. Brathwaite—who co-curated the exhibition with Aperture Foundation’s Michael Famighetti and Skirball managing curator Bethany Montagano—remarked, “My father preserved the legacy of the ‘Black Is Beautiful’ movement, which is not merely a slogan, but a template for the way that art and activism can propel us toward equity and inclusion.” “’Black Is Beautiful’ demonstrates how Kwame Brathwaite’s photographs disrupted cultural norms and helped to broaden our definition of what is beautiful and who gets to decide,” added Montagano. “In keeping with the Skirball’s mission to affirm the dignity of every cultural identity, we are honored to highlight an artist whose body of work and guiding principles call upon us to work toward a more just and inclusive society.”Following the Skirball presentation of “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite,” the exhibition will go on national tour, traveling to the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina in 2020, among other venues to be announced.