Black Is Beautiful, 2019

Photographs and introduction by Kwame Brathwaite
Essays by Tanisha C. Ford and Deborah Willis

Pages: 144 pages / 91 black-and-white and four-color images
Language: English
Format: Hardcover with jacket
Size: 8 ½ x 10 ½ in. (21.6 x 27 cm)
Availability: Limited quantities



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Black Is Beautiful, 2019

In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite used his photography to popularize the political slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” This monograph—the first ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s remarkable career—tells the story of a key, but under-recognized, figure of the second Harlem Renaissance.

Inspired by the writings of activist and black nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite, along with his older brother, Elombe Brath, founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and the Grandassa Models (1962). AJASS was a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers; Grandassa Models was a modeling agency for black women, founded to challenge white beauty standards.

From stunning studio portraits of the Grandassa Models to behind-the-scenes images of Harlem’s artistic community, including Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, and Miles Davis, this book offers a long-overdue exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work.

Photographs and introduction by Kwame Brathwaite, Essays by Tanisha C. Ford and Deborah Willis


Tanisha C. Ford is associate professor of Africana studies and history at the University of Delaware. She is the author of Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion (2019) and Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul (2015), which won the 2016 Organization of American Historians’ Liberty Legacy Foundation Award for best book on civil rights history.

Deborah Willis is an award-winning author and professor and is chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. One of the leading historians of African American photography, she is the author of numerous books, including Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery (2017, with Barbara Krauthamer), Out [o] Fashion Photography: Embracing Beauty (2013), Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present (2009), and Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits (2008).

Kwame Brathwaite

Inspired in part by the writings of Marcus Garvey, Kwame Brathwaite, his older brother, Elombe Brath, and the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) popularized the phrase “Black is Beautiful” in the late 50's and early 60’s. Brathwaite and Brath did their part to spread this idea through Brathwaite’s writings and photographs, as well as the activities of the two organizations they helped co-found: AJASS (1956) and the Grandassa Models (1962). 

In the late 1950’s Brathwaite and his older brother, Elombe Brath, became active in the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement (ANPM) led by Carlos Cooks. Brathwaite and Brath were also involved in the early struggle 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 the two brothers were 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 and African dance performances.

AJASS’s first fashion show, “Naturally '62: The Original African Coiffure and Fashion Extravaganza Designed to Restore Our Racial Pride and Standards,” was headlined by Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach. Initially planned as a one-time event, “Naturally ’62” proved so popular that a s...

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Curated by Aperture

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