The Struggle Continues, Victory is Certain - Philip Martin Gallery

19 September - 9 October 2020

Over the course of the last four years, artist and media theorist Kwame Brathwaite has been recognized for his foundational role in popularizing the now household-phrase, "Black is Beautiful," working alongside his brother, Elombe Brath, and the two artist/activist organizations they co-founded: African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and Grandassa Models. "Black is Beautiful" is one of the most important phrases of the second half of the twentieth century. Classical in his vision, contemporary in his practice, Kwame Brathwaite structures his photographs with an eye to putting the viewer into the scene. He does so not only visually, but also metaphorically. Brathwaite asks us to stand where he stands, see what he sees, and feel what he feels. As relevant now as they were when they were first made, Brathwaite's images have taken on a new life, connecting directly for many contemporary viewers - and for Brathwaite himself - with today's vital burgeoning new conversations in Black arts, culture and politics.

Black excellence and Black joy are revealed by and reveled in throughout Kwame Brathwaite's work. Whether in early photographs like "Untitled (Patrons at an AJASS concert, Club 845, Bronx)" (1956-57), or later works like "Untitled (White Dress)" (c. 1970), Brathwaite invites us to join moments of pleasure and creativity, intimacy and fellowship, allure and elegance. In doing so, his work has inspired a new generation of artists, performers and intellectuals interested not only in Black politics, but also in the visual importance of Black beauty. Brathwaite wants people to love themselves for who they are, not for what society tells them they need to be.

Kwame S. Brathwaite, the artist's son and Director of The Kwame Brathwaite Archive comments, "As we look at the aesthetics, and the beauty and the technical mastery of his work, behind that is One Love, love of people, love of self. It is about re-educating people about history and culture, and the connection back to Africa. It is connecting people to a different mindset, and it is also talking about this humanity, this sense of equity and equality that he is creating through his work." Going on to describe "Untitled (Deedee Little)" (C. 1970), one of the photographs included in the Philip Martin Gallery show, Kwame S. Brathwaite points out, "What he is looking at here is this wide-angled view of the entire person. You see the beautiful head piece and the jewelry, this incredible piece of fashion. We are seeing this connection back to Africa, this connection to culture, but also this self-sufficiency, and the concept of Buy Black."

"Buy Black" appears often in the images included in the exhibition. We see it in a shop window, "Untitled (African Market, Harlem)" (1967), and on a sign behind an impassioned orator, "Untitled (Charles Peaker Street Speaker, head of ANPM after Carlos Cooks passed away on 125th street)" (1968). A world unfolds in these images - both historical and also of the today's moment - the ladder on which Charles Peaker stands, for example, is the same one we see in Brathwaite's photograph of a Harlem landmark, "Untitled (Michaux's Books)" (1964). This is the same ladder described by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who on arriving to see Malcolm X speak, witnessed Peaker give his message. Jabbar, whose recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times was a beacon to many, cites Brathwaite in his 2007 book, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance," and brother Elombe Brath, as well as African Jazz Arts Society and Studios, Grandassa Models, Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach - both of whom were AJASS members - as figuring in the beginning of the Black Arts Movement in the late 1950s.

"Kwame Brathwaite: The Struggle Continues, Victory is Certain" takes its title from Brathwaite's thoughts in the forward to his 2017 monograph, "Kwame Brathwaite: Black is Beautiful." A life-long Pan-Africanist, Brathwaite not only heard Sam Nujoma speak at the United Nations in 1961, but also participated in the realization of Nujoma's vision. He traveled to his 1990 inauguration celebration as first President of Namibia. A rallying cry of the FRELIMO movement during Mozambique's war for independence, the phrase, "A luta continua... a vitória é certa," is a call-and-response that demands from speaker and responder alike to keep pushing, to continue the struggle, be self-sufficient and be inspired.