Upcoming Exhibition

Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite

August 19, 2022 - January 15, 2023

One of the minds behind the "Black Is Beautiful" movement, Kwame Brathwaite has long deployed his photography as an agent of social change. This exploration of his work features 50 stunning studio portraits and behind-the-scenes images of Harlem's artistic community.


2nd floor, Luman Reed Galleries

Known as the “keeper of the images,” Kwame Brathwaite deployed his photography from the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s as an agent of social change. Born in Brooklyn to a Caribbean American family and raised in the Bronx, Brathwaite traces his artistic and political sensibilities to his youth. After seeing the horrific images of Emmett Till published in Jet magazine in 1955, Brathwaite and his brother Elombe Brath turned to art and political activism, absorbing the ideas of the Jamaican-born activist Marcus Garvey, who promoted a Pan-Africanist vision for Black economic liberation and freedom. Kwame and Elombe founded the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), a collective of artists and creatives that organized jazz concerts in clubs around Harlem and the Bronx. The group also advanced a message of economic empowerment and political consciousness in the Harlem community, with “Think Black, Buy Black” emphasizing the power of self-presentation and style. In the 1960s, Brathwaite and his collective also sought to address how white conceptions of beauty and body image affected Black women. To do so, they popularized the transformative idea “Black Is Beautiful” and founded the Grandassa Models, a modeling troupe of locally cast women who appeared in annual fashion shows at Harlem’s Apollo Theater.

Organized by Aperture, New York and Kwame S. Brathwaite, the exhibition features 50 stunning studio portraits and behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community, including Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, as well as dresses worn by the Grandassa Models, offering a long-overdue exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work. The exhibition is coordinated at New-York Historical by Marilyn Satin Kushner, curator of prints, photographs, and architectural collections.

Major support for Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Braithwaite is provided by Bank of America and Agnes Gund. 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.

Buy the Book

The monograph Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite—the first ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s remarkable career—tells the story of a key, but under-recognized, figure of the second Harlem Renaissance.

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Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.

  • NYC Cultural Affairs
  • NY Council on the Arts

Media sponsor:

  • WNET New York Public Media