“Black is Beautiful: Empowerment Through the Lens of Kwame Brathwaite, 1962-1975,” is the first West Cost solo show of photographer and cultural activist Kwame Brathwaite. Opening May 21 at Cherry and Martin in Los Angeles and on view until July 30, the show comprises images documenting African-American arts and culture in the 1960s and 70s, and includes studio portraits of the Grandassa Models and other stars of the “Naturally” fashion and culture shows that Brathwaite and his brother, Elombe Brath, helped organize as part of the African Jazz-Art Society and Studios (AJASS), an affiliation of artists, designers, musicians and writers. Starting with “Naturally 62,” which had the tag line “The Original African Coiffure and Fashion Extravaganza Designed to Restore Our Racial Pride & Standards,” the shows traveled to venues in the U.S. and internationally and featured music and dance along with women wearing natural hair styles and African-inspired designs. The events were instrumental in promoting the slogan “Black is Beautiful” and an Afro-centric version of female beauty that included unstraightened hair and dark skin. As a press release from the 2002 iteration writes, Grandassa Models were “created to show Black women (and the world) that our Black skin, kinky hair and full lips were a thing of beauty, not something to be ashamed of. The show also gave rise to the wearing of African traditional and African inspired fashions, a phenomenon that has exploded into an industry in our communities in many major cities.”
Brathwaite writes that he spent his career “earning a living as a fashion, commercial and entertainment photographer,” but that his “primary interest has been the recording of the history of the African Diaspora both politically and culturally.” His photographs record a visually rich chapter of that history, where the power of images is on full display.
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