Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite opens at Reynolda House Museum of American Art Feb. 5

Critically-acclaimed exhibition of African American photographer illustrates how art, music and fashion impacted social change 

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Dec. 14, 2021)—Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite will be on view at Reynolda House Museum of American Art Feb. 5-May 8. Black Is Beautiful is the first major exhibition to focus on this central figure of the second Harlem Renaissance whose art popularized the “Black Is Beautiful” cultural movement that began in the 1960s in the United States. 

Through more than forty iconic photographs of Black men and women with natural hair and clothes that reclaimed their African roots, Black Is Beautiful reflects how Brathwaite—inspired by the writings of famed activist and black nationalist Marcus Garvey—used his art to effect social change in the late 1950s and 1960s. 

Brathwaite explains, “It was a time when people were protesting injustices related to race, class and human rights around the globe. I focused on perfecting my craft so that I could use my gift to inspire thought, relay ideas and tell stories of our struggle, our work, our liberation.”

Along with his brother Elombe Brath (1936–2014), Brathwaite—known as the “keeper of the images”—co-founded two organizations that were instrumental in realizing his vision: the African Jazz-Art Society and Studios (AJASS), a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers, in 1956; and Grandassa Models, a creative collective of Black women, in 1962. Brathwaite also helped organize fashion shows showcasing clothes designed by the models themselves, created stunning portraits of jazz luminaries, and captured behind-the-scenes photographs of the Black arts community, including Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln and Miles Davis.

During an era when segregation prevailed across the United States, Brathwaite’s body of work is remarkable for challenging mainstream beauty standards that excluded people of color and addressing how white conceptions of beauty and body image affected Black women.

“At Reynolda, we strive to offer inclusive and meaningful experiences that celebrate and connect every voice,” said Allison Perkins, executive director, Reynolda House. “To that end, we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to showcase the work of a photographer and social force who empowered an important global movement in Black history.”

The eight-venue national tour, organized by Aperture, of Black Is Beautiful was launched in 2019 to critical acclaim. After Reynolda, it will continue on to the New York Historical Society followed by the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Reynolda House is the only venue for the exhibition in North Carolina. 

In addition to Brathwaite’s photographs, the exhibition will display garments worn during fashion shows, as well as a selection of ephemeral materials. Jazz music of the era will also play in the Gallery. 

Tickets to the exhibition are available on

Related Publication
Beginning February 4, the exhibition’s accompanying publication will be available for purchase in the Museum store. Featuring in-depth essays by Tanisha C. Ford and Deborah Willis and more than eighty images, Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, May 2019) offers a long overdue exploration of Brathwaite’s life and work. 

About the Artist
Born in Brooklyn in 1938 and raised in the Bronx, New York, Brathwaite spent most of his adult life in and around New York. In the late 1950s, Brathwaite and his brother Elombe Brath became active in the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement led by Carlos Cooks. At the same time, the brothers regularly produced and promoted concerts and art shows at venues such as Club 845 in the Bronx and Small’s Paradise in Harlem, while Brathwaite photographed the events.

Throughout the 1960s, Brathwaite contributed photography to leading Black publications such as the Amsterdam News, City Sun and Daily Challenge. By the 1970s, Brathwaite was a leading concert photographer, helping to shape the images of major celebrities, including Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Brathwaite wrote about and photographed such landmark events as the Motown Revue at the Apollo in 1963, WattStax 1972, the Jackson 5’s first trip to Africa in 1974 and the Festival in Zaire in 1974.

Today Brathwaite resides in New York and is represented by Philip Martin Gallery in Culver City, California. He is married to Sikolo Brathwaite, a former Grandassa model whom he met through their work together. She continues to advocate for the empowerment of Black women today. Their son, Kwame S. Brathwaite, is currently the director of the Kwame Brathwaite Archive in Pasadena, California. 


The exhibition is organized by Aperture Foundation, New York and Kwame S. Brathwaite. The exhibition Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite 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.

Select Artworks
Kwame Brathwaite, Self-portrait, African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), Harlem, ca. 1964; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019), Courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles
Kwame Brathwaite, Sikolo Brathwaite, African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), Harlem, ca. 1968; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019), Courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles
Kwame Brathwaite, Grandassa Models at the Merton Simpson Gallery, New York, ca. 1967; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019), Courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles

Exhibition-Related Programs

Registration will be available on

Gallery Talks: An Artist’s View
$5 for members, $8 not-yet-members (includes Museum admission)

Join local artists for talks in the Babcock Gallery. These 30-45 minute guided conversations through Black Is Beautiful will focus on the artist’s respective medium(s). Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance and visit the exhibition before the talk. 

Thursday, February 17, 11 a.m.
Fashion with Nikita D. Wallace, Founder and Creative Director, Winston-Salem Fashion Week

Thursday, March 24, 11 a.m.
Experimental photography with photographer and printmaker Kimberly Varnadoe

Thursday, March 31, 11 a.m.
Jazz with musician and bass player Matt Kendrick

Thursday, April 28, 11 a.m.
Photography with Owens Daniels, Reynolda’s Kenan Institute Creative Catalyst Fellow 

Reynolda On the House
February 18, 4-8 p.m.
Free Museum admission

All are invited to visit the Museum  after hours “on the house” (free of charge)! Bring a date to enjoy live music by Diana Tuffin with The Matt Kendrick Trio and light hors d’oeuvres while exploring the nationally-acclaimed exhibition Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite. After self-touring the Museum, guests are encouraged to stroll the Gardens and the Village.

Kwame Brathwaite and American Photography in the 1960s and 1970s
Wednesday, March 2, 3 p.m.
Free with admission at Reynolda House Museum of American Art

With John J. Curley, Wake Forest University Professor of Art History

Our Search for “Beautiful”
Friday, March 11, 7 p.m.
Free with advance registration, Reynolda House Museum of American Art 

Sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities

Women of color who are leaders in our local community will share their personal experiences of changing beauty standards as another thoughtful layer to Black Is Beautiful during this in-person event. The speakers will discuss topics such as instances of colorism, representation in art and popular media, and generational differences. This panel talk will be moderated by Owens Daniels, photographer and Reynolda’s Kenan Institute Catalyst for the Arts Fellow. Panelists will include Nikita D. Wallace, Founder and Creative Director of Winston-Salem Fashion Week, and Amatullah Saleem, community activist. A reception will take place at 6:30 p.m. prior to the program.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Keeper of the Images: Kwame Brathwaite’s Harlem
with Kwame S. Brathwaite and Wake Forest University Professor of the Humanities Corey D.B. Walker
March 19, 4 p.m.
Free with advance registration
Reynolda House Museum of American Art 

Sponsored by The Bynum E. Tudor Fund for Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Kwame S. Brathwaite, son of the “keeper of the images” and Black Is Beautiful photographer, will join regional artists and academics for an interdisciplinary exploration of Pan Africanism. This panel presentation will discuss Marcus Garvey’s influence on social activism, changing conceptions of fashion and beauty, the centrality of jazz and blues to twentieth-century Black cultural identity, and more. 

Community Day
Saturday, April 9, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Free Museum admission 

Sponsored by Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Carolinas Realty

Celebrate self-expression and empowerment with Reynolda during Community Day when Museum admission is free for all. Performances and programming, including hands-on art activities, will be inspired by Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite. In the afternoon, the UNCSA Student Jazz Quintet will perform Brathwaite-era jazz. 

Reynolda House is grateful for the support of the following sponsors of Black Is Beautiful:

Major Sponsors

The Cathleen and Ray McKinney Exhibition Fund

Lead Sponsors
Mr. Olle and Dr. Emily Rostlund

Contributing Sponsors
Lisa and Alan Caldwell
Terrie and John Davis
Scottie and David Neill
Wake Forest University

Exhibition Partners
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP
Dr. Amy McMichael-Thomas and Mr. Ralph Thomas
Taylor & Taylor, Attorneys at Law, PLLC

Hours and Admission 
Reynolda House Museum of American Art, located at 2250 Reynolda Rd., is open to visitors Tuesday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Admission is charged. Museum members, children 18 and under, students, active or retired military personnel with ID, first responders and employees of Wake Forest University and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center with valid ID receive free admission to the Museum. Passes to Reynolda House in English and Spanish are also available to check out from every branch of the Forsyth County Public Library free of charge.

Reynolda Gardens is open from dawn to dusk daily free of charge.  The Greenhouse is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reynolda Village merchant hours vary. No ticket is needed to shop at the Reynolda House Museum store. Explore for more information.

About Reynolda
Reynolda is set on 170 acres in Winston-Salem, N.C. and comprises Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Reynolda Gardens and Reynolda Village Shops and Restaurants.  The Museum presents a renowned art collection in a historic and incomparable setting: the original 1917 interiors of Katharine and R. J. Reynolds’s 34,000-square-foot home. Its collection is a chronology of American art and featured exhibitions are offered in the Museum’s Babcock Gallery and house bedrooms. The Gardens serve as a 134-acre outdoor horticultural oasis open to the public year-round, complete with colorful formal gardens, nature trails and a greenhouse. In the Village, the estate’s historic buildings are now home to a vibrant mix of boutiques, restaurants, shops and services. Plan your visit at and use the mobile app  Reynolda Revealed to self-tour the estate. 

LEAD IMAGE: Kwame Brathwaite, Sikolo Brathwaite wearing a headpiece designed by Carolee Prince, African Jazz-Art Society & Studios (AJASS), Harlem, ca. 1968; from Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019), Courtesy the artist and Philip Martin Gallery, Los Angeles.


Media Contact:
Kaci Baez