The Detroit Institute of Arts in the city’s cultural center announced it will present “Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” in collaboration with Aperture, a company that stages traveling exhibitions.
The exhibition will feature more than 40 black-and-white and color works, many large-scale, by the photographer from Oct. 8 to Jan. 16, 2022.
The photographs include studio portraits and behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community during the 1960s, including Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln. The exhibit is free with museum admission, which is always free for residents of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties.
“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,” says Nancy Barr, the DIA’s James Pearson Duffy curator of photography and department head.
Brathwaite was inspired by the writings of activist and Black nationalist Marcus Garvey to found the African Jazz-Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) with his brother, Elombe Brath. A collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers, the photographs feature members of the group as well as jazz musicians the group promoted.
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 the motor city, where in 1963, Detroit nightclub Mr. Kelley’s Lounge hosted “Naturally 63.”
The exhibition has three sections. Part one features members of AJASS and follows the photographer’s work made at Harlem jazz clubs and festivals in New York City. In the second part, “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.
The third part focuses on the Grandessa Models, featuring studio fashion portraits, promotional poster designs, album cover art, as well as original African-inspired jewelry and clothing, and images taken at the “Naturally” shows.
“We are honored to drive authentic works by audacious individuals,” says Juanita Slappy, head of multicultural marketing at Cadillac, a major supporter of the exhibit. “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.”
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.
Additional support is provided by Lisa Pernick and Bruce Israel, Maureen and Roy S. Roberts, and Rhonda D. Welburn.