Inspired in part by the writings of Marcus Garvey and the teachings of Carlos Cooks, Kwame Brathwaite's (b. 1938, New York, NY) photography created the visual overture for the Black is Beautiful Movement in the late 50's and early 60’s. Brathwaite spread this idea through his writings and photographs, as well as the activities of the two organizations he helped co-found: AJASS (1956) and the Grandassa Models (1962). His career spanning over 6 decades has allowed him to document the intersection of music, fashion, activism and art globally throughout the diaspora.
In the late 1950’s Brathwaite and AJASS became active in the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement (ANPM) led by Carlos Cooks. They were also involved in the early struggle for liberation in Southern Africa. In 1961 they formed the Bronx-based South-West Africa Relief Committee to support Sam Nujoma’s South-West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) [and later, the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN)]. Parallel to these political activities AJASS was regularly producing concerts at such venues as Club 845 in the Bronx and Small’s Paradise in Harlem. Brathwaite took on the role of photographing these concerts, promoting them, and organizing the cultural activities that would often be held during the concerts, such as art shows, poetry, theater and African dance performances.
Throughout the 60s Kwame Brathwaite produced reporting and pictorials for leading black publications such as The Amsterdam News, City Sun and The Daily Challenge. By the 70's, Brathwaite was one of the top music and cultural photographers, shaping the images of such public figures as Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Brathwaite wrote about and photographed such landmark events as the “The Motown Revue” at the Apollo (1963); “WattStax ’72” (1972); The Jackson 5’s first trip to Africa (1974); and the “Festival in Zaire” (1974) which accompanied the famous Foreman-Ali fight, “The Rumble in the Jungle."
Currently, Kwame Brathwaite is the subject of major touring exhibition, “Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful.” The exhibition opens at New York Historical Society (New York, NY) August 2022. “Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful” premiered at the Skirball Cultural Center (Los Angeles, CA); and traveled to the Museum of the African Diaspora (San Francisco, CA); Columbia Museum of Art (Columbia, SC); Blanton Museum of Art (Austin, TX); Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, MI); (Reynolda House, Durham, NC) with additional institutions forthcoming. A monograph of the same title, produced by the Aperture Foundation, was released May 2019 with essays by Deborah Willis, Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts of New York University and Tanisha C. Ford, Professor of History at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Brathwaite's work is featured in the touring exhibition, “Black American Portraits,” which opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, (Los Angeles, CA); and travels I to Spelman College Museum of Art (Atlanta, GA); and Memphis Brooks Museum of Art (Memphis, TN). Brathwaite's work recently appeared in “This Tender, Fragile Thing” at Jack Shainman Gallery (Kinderhook, NY). His work has recently been acquired by such institutions as Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, TX); Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University (Chicago, IL); Pérez Art Museum Miami (Miami, FL); National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, DC); Museum of the City of New York (New York, NY); The Studio Museum in Harlem (New York, NY); Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY); Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY); MIT List Visual Arts Center (Cambridge, MA); and Sharjah Art Museum (Sharjah, United Arab Emirates). Corporate collections include JPMorgan Chase Art Collection (New York, NY) and Sidley Austin LLP (New York, NY). Brathwaite’s work has recently appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vogue, New York Post, New York Magazine, National Geographic, Aperture, and other publications. Brathwaite retired in 2018 and lives in New York, NY with his wife Sikolo Brathwaite.