Kwame Brathwaite’s Melodic Lens: A Visionary’s Journey Through Music and Photography, On Exhibit at ArtCenter

Published on Apr 5, 2024

Kwame Brathwaite, Untitled (Grandassa Models in Studio), c. 1972 (printed 2022)

In the dimly lit jazz clubs of the Bronx, a young Kwame Brathwaite found his calling. Armed with a camera, the 18-year-old began capturing the vibrant energy and soul of the music scene in 1956. Little did he know that this passion would shape his career for over six decades as he documented life and culture through the lens of the Civil Rights, Black Arts, and Black Power movements.

Now, a new exhibition at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, “Kwame Brathwaite: Things Well Worth Waiting For,” delves into the late artist’s multifaceted relationship with music.
On view from April 17 through August 17, 2024, the exhibition features approximately 50 of Brathwaite’s color and black-and-white photographs from the 1960s through the 1970s, organized around three overlapping areas of his work: music, fashion, and community.

“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,” says Grace Deveney, guest curator from the Art Institute of Chicago. “His love of music also informed his pictures and his approach to photography.”

The exhibition reintroduces Brathwaite’s prescient work, which has gained increasing relevance in recent years. It follows the nationally traveling exhibition “Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” and the accompanying publication “Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful” (Aperture, 2019).

Visitors to the exhibition will be treated to Brathwaite’s 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. These works provide a fascinating glimpse into a pivotal period in 20th-century culture, as Brathwaite documented the “Black is Beautiful” movement and the Grandassa Models, who challenged prevailing notions of beauty by wearing natural hairstyles and African-inspired fashion.

The exhibition also features a large projection of approximately 80 rotating color stills, accompanied by ambient sound from “Swizz Beatz x Kwame Brathwaite,” a double-disc vinyl record of jazz standards and contemporary jazz tracks curated by Swizz Beatz, with cover artwork by Brathwaite.

Brathwaite’s journey as a photographer began in 1956 when he co-founded the African Jazz Art Society & Studios in the South Bronx, aiming to celebrate jazz as an African art form. In 1962, AJASS staged “Naturally ’62,” a groundbreaking event that merged fashion, music, and politics in Harlem, introducing the Grandassa Models and planting the seeds for the “Black is Beautiful” movement.

“Kwame Brathwaite: Things Well Worth Waiting For” is a testament to the artist’s vision and hope for a contemporary culture that embraces and celebrates Black identity. As Deveney notes, the exhibition title, taken from Brathwaite’s review of Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” (1976), reflects this aspiration.

Supported by a grant from the Pasadena Art Alliance, ArtCenter’s Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and the College’s Photography and Imaging Department, the exhibition is a must-see for anyone interested in the intersection of music, photography, and cultural history. It offers a rare opportunity to experience the work of a visionary artist whose legacy continues to resonate today.

“Kwame Brathwaite: Things Well Worth Waiting For” is on view at the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena from April 17 through August 17, 2024. Admission to the gallery is free, and free parking is available at 1700 Lida Street, Pasadena.



Make a Comment

  • (not be published)