Kwame Brathwaite: Things Well Worth Waiting For

A major solo exhibition reveals the innovative work of the photographer, artist, and community leader (1938-2023).

On view April 17 through August 17, 2024
Opening reception, Saturday, May 18, 5-7pm

In the mid-50s, eighteen-year-old Kwame Brathwaite picked up a camera and began capturing images from the dimly lit jazz clubs that he frequented in the Bronx. For over six decades the photographer devoted his career to perceptively documenting life and culture in conjunction with the civil rights, Black Arts and Black Power movements in images that have been hailed as elegant, powerful, and visionary.

Inspired by Kwame Brathwaite’s multifaceted relationship to music, the exhibition is organized around three overlapping areas of his work: music, fashion, and community. With singular images of cultural luminaries such as Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye, and Abbey Lincoln, alongside musicians, models, and community members in the Bronx and Harlem, Brathwaite’s work sheds light on a fascinating period in Twentieth Century culture. The exhibition reintroduces this visionary artist whose work has become increasingly relevant in recent years.

As co-founder of the African Jazz Art Society & Studio (AJASS) in the South Bronx, Brathwaite led community building efforts by hosting and celebrating jazz music as an African Art form. In 1962, a year after attending the “Miss Natural Standard of Beauty Contest,” AJASS staged Naturally ‘62: a groundbreaking merging of fashion, music, and politics in Harlem that introduced the Grandassa Models—a group of black women who together challenged prevailing notions of beauty by wearing their hair in natural styles and showcasing African-inspired fashion and jewelry. That evening of January 28, 1962, the Black is Beautiful movement began. The name “Grandassa” came from Carlos A. Cooks, founder of the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement, who called Africa “Grandassaland.” Naturally events continued annually for many years and grew to be one of the most important cultural movements of the Twentieth Century. Promoted initially through the Naturally fashion shows with the Grandassa Models, the “Black is Beautiful” movement gained broader awareness through nationally traveling AJASS concerts by members Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, and others. Today the phrase is synonymous with the work of Brathwaite, whose photographs celebrate black culture and identity yet also stand alone as unique and stunning images unto themselves.

Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery
ArtCenter College of Design
1700 Lida Street
Pasadena, CA 91103

Gallery Hours:

Wednesday to Saturday, 12 pm - 5 pm.
Reservations recommended.


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Works in the Exhibition

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Kwame Brathwaite: Things Well Worth Waiting For is guest curated by Grace Deveney from the Art Institute of Chicago, who explains her decision to focus on Brathwaite’s “passion for music:” It “not only ignited his photography career and led to his writing music reviews for numerous international publications in the 1970s, addressing the distinct sounds of soul, R&B, and funk, but his love of music also informed his pictures and his approach to photography.” She states further, “Brathwaite has stated a lifelong desire to depict ‘the essence of Black experience, as a feeling, a drive, and an emotion” that are heard and felt through music.” The exhibition title, named after the title of Brathwaite’s critical review of Wonder’s long anticipated album, Songs in the Key of Life (1976) reflects the artist’s hope and vision of a contemporary culture that embraces and celebrates black identity.

A large projection—comprised of rotating black and white and color stills—is another facet of the exhibition. Providing ambient sound is the inclusion of Swizz Beatz x Kwame Brathwaite, a double disc vinyl record of jazz standard and contemporary jazz tracks curated by Swizz Beatz with cover artwork by Brathwaite.

This groundbreaking solo exhibition represents the second major survey of works by Kwame Brathwaite in Los Angeles. The exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago and guest curated by Grace Deveney, David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Associate Curator for Photography and Media at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The exhibition is supported by a grant from the Pasadena Art Alliance.

Additional support is provided by ArtCenter’s Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and ArtCenter’s Photography and Imaging department.