June 27 – September 6, 2020
In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite used photography to popularize the political slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” This exhibition—the first ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s remarkable career—tells the story of a key figure of the second Harlem Renaissance.
Inspired by the writings of activist and Black nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite and his older brother, Elombe Brath, founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and the Grandassa Models, a modeling agency for Black women.
This exhibition returns us to the Naturally fashion shows of the 1960s walked by Grandassa models and produced by the African American artists, designers, musicians, hairdressers, writers, and jazz lovers of AJASS.
Images have power, and this is an important example of a creative collective formed in order to radically shift the dominant narrative at midcentury.
Exhibition organized by Aperture, New York and Kwame S. Brathwaite.
Kwame Brathwaite, Photo shoot at a public school for one of the AJASS-associated modeling groups that emulated the Grandassa Models and began
to embrace natural hairstyles. Harlem, ca. 1966; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019) © Kwame Brathwaite. Courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles.
Music plays a vital and central role in this exhibition. Take a listen for yourself with some curated Spotify playlists from local personalities and from the photographer's son.
Learn from Battiste, Johnson, and the Izms of Art what inspired them in these videos about the process.
Student Exhibition: Responding to Black Is Beautiful
For our very first Online Student Exhibition, we invite all students (K-12 and College) to submit a work of art you've created that is inspired by the exhibition currently on view at the CMA: Black Is Beautiful. This Online Student Exhibition is presented in partnership with the Friends of African American Art & Culture, a CMA membership affinity group.
Multimedia TAP Tour
Learn more about the exhibition with our multimedia tour featuring in-depth discussions with experts from both inside and outside the art world. In this tour, you'll hear from:
Rob Coffey is a Columbia-area photographer known for his street photography and portraiture. He shares some technical insight on photography as well as what he loves about these images. You can find out more about Coffey on his website.
Delores Logan is a lifelong civil rights activist who grew up in Saluda, South Carolina, where she led the youth chapter for the NAACP. In the early 1960s she attended college at Howard University in Washington, DC, where she continued her work in activism. She shares her personal stories from the era that spawned the Black is Beautiful movement. Logan serves on the CMA board of trustees and is an active member of the CMA affinity group Friends of African American Art & Culture.
Nancy Tolson, Ph.D., teaches English and African American studies at the University of South Carolina, where she is the assistant director of the African American Studies program. She brings historical and cultural perspective to this exhibition in her discussion. Tolson serves in the CMA Docent Corps as well as the board commission.
Catherine Walworth, Ph.D., is the CMA's in-house curator for this traveling exhibition. She brings her love of fashion and design history to the conversation.
Art Project: Found Object Self Portrait
CMA staffer Sherrie shares instructions in the video. Find them here as well.
- A tabletop mirror or reflective surface
- One sheet of heavyweight white paper (construction paper, cardstock, etc.)
- Markers or crayons
- Found objects (objects from around the house that can be repurposed into art such as string, egg cartons, fabric scraps, or feathers)
- Make sure your found objects are not too heavy for your paper and can be attached using regular craft glue. Having trouble finding objects? Try cutting up old magazines or cut shapes out of construction paper.
- No tabletop mirror? Turn on the front-facing camera on a phone or an iPad.
- Want a sturdier surface for your self-portrait? Assemble it on a piece of cardboard (e.g. a piece of an old cereal box).
- Gather your materials. Look for objects that can be used for different facial features (e.g. a piece of an egg carton for a nose, yarn for hair).
- Take a look in the mirror! What do you notice? What do you love? Are your eyes shaped like almonds or buttons? Does your hair curl? What about that cute freckle by your nose? Take a note from Kwame Brathwaite and celebrate your beauty!
- Use a crayon or marker to draw the shape of your face then assemble your materials to create facial features. Have fun!
The phrase "Black Is Beautiful" embodies a movement that instills a sense of pride in being Black. It was made popular by photographer Kwame Brathwaite and his brother Elombe. Using this as inspiration, try coming up with a mantra (a phrase or slogan you repeat) that celebrates something you love about yourself. For example, “my curls are beautiful, just like me!” Add your mantra to your self-portrait.
What does #BlackIsBeautiful mean to you?
Share your response and read what others have said.
Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful
Featuring photographs and introduction by Kwame Brathwaite and essays by Tanisha C. Ford and Deborah Willis.
8 ½ x 10 ½ in.
144 pages, 91 black-and-white and four-color images
Hardcover with jacket
Published by Aperture, New York
Available for purchase in the CMA Shop.
Luther and Judy Battiste; Dr. and Mrs. Allen J. Coles, III
Leslie and Jeff Archie; Benedict College; Barbara B. Boyd; Julie and Mike Brenan; Columbia (SC) Chapter, The Links, Inc.; First Citizens Bank; Benjamin and Jerry Dell Gimarc; David and Jane Kulbersh; Midlands Medical Wellness Center, LLC; Michel G. Moore; Brandolyn and Jerome Pinkston; Bill Schmidt; Isvara Wilson