March 28, 2024

Kwame Brathwaite: Things Well Worth Waiting For

on view at Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery

In 1956, 18-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 would devote 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.

Exhibition dates: Wednesday, April 17 through Saturday, August 17, 2024

Opening reception: Saturday, May 18, 2024 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.

ArtCenter College of Design is proud to announce the exhibition Kwame Brathwaite: Things Well Worth Waiting For, on view April 17 through August 17, 2024. This major solo exhibition—the first in Southern California since Brathwaite’s death in April 2023, features approximately 50 of the artist’s color and black-and-white photographs from the 1960s through the 1970s.

While Brathwaite is best known for photographs that popularized the political slogan “Black is Beautiful” in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, Things Well Worth Waiting For focuses on the late artist’s multifaceted relationship to music. Organized around three overlapping areas of his work: music, fashion and community, the exhibition features 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. Together, these works shed light on a fascinating period in 20th-century culture.

The exhibition also serves as a reintroduction of a prescient artist whose work has become increasingly relevant in recent years. This groundbreaking solo exhibition represents the second major survey of works by Kwame Brathwaite in Los Angeles, arriving on the heels of the nationally traveling exhibition Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite and its accompanying publication, Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful (Aperture, 2019).

Kwame Brathwaite: Things Well Worth Waiting For is guest curated by Grace Deveney from the Art Institute of Chicago, who, in explaining her decision to focus on Brathwaite’s “passion for music,” says, “[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 Stevie 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.

In celebration of the “Black is Beautiful” movement, the exhibition includes photographs of the original Grandassa Models: Clara Lewis, Black Rose, Nomsa Brath, Priscilla Bardonille, Mari Toussaint, Esther Davenport, Wanda Sims and Beatrice Cramston. While their settings, costumes and props vary, many were staged by Brathwaite in his studio located in Harlem adjacent to the Apollo Theater, and presented in the Naturally fashion and multimedia performances that continued at that legendary venue throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

Another facet of the exhibition is a large projection comprised of rotating stills. Providing ambient sound is the inclusion of 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.

Historical Background

In 1956, Brathwaite co-founded the African Jazz Art Society & Studio (AJASS) in the South Bronx, with the aim of celebrating jazz music as an African Art form by hosting jazz concerts. 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.

In the 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, growing to be one of the most important cultural movements of the Twentieth Century. “Black is Beautiful” was promoted initially through the Naturally fashion shows with the Grandassa Models, and spread 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.

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 the College’s Photography and Imaging department.

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

Williamson Gallery Hours:
Wednesday through Saturday, Noon to 5 p.m. [Closed Sunday-Tuesday and holidays]

Admission to the gallery is free and free parking is available at 1700 Lida Street, Pasadena, CA 91103.

For previews and special appointments, please contact:

About the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery: Located in the center of ArtCenter’s historic Craig Ellwood building (Hillside campus), the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery is the College’s flagship gallery space, serving as a welcoming point for students, faculty, staff and the public. The gallery is named after Alyce de Roulet Williamson, ArtCenter 100 founder and Trustee, whose generous gift, paired with a gift from the James Irvine Foundation, funded the construction. Built in 1992, the 4,600 square foot space was formerly a courtyard space that was transformed through a design by architect Fred Fisher. Williamson Gallery programs offer professional quality exhibitions of art and design, placing an emphasis on cultural expression that has current relevance to contemporary culture. Through its over three-decade series of programs and exhibitions, it has contributed to the tangible expression of critical dialogue that extends outside of the classroom. Providing a space where objects, people, and ideas come together, the Williamson, like other public facing spaces at the College, is a nexus point between the campus and its surrounding communities.

About ArtCenter Exhibitions: ArtCenter Exhibitions includes the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery at the Hillside Campus in Pasadena above the Rose Bowl, the Peter and Merle Mullin Gallery, the Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography Gallery and the Hutto-Patterson Exhibition Hall at the South Campus a mile from Old Pasadena, and ArtCenter DTLA Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. These curated spaces embody ArtCenter's institutional will to understand artistic thinking and design strategies as levers in promoting social advancement, the pursuit of humanitarian innovation, and the use of critical inquiry to clarify objectives and truths. Using the lens of contemporary art and design, the mission of ArtCenter Exhibitions is to ignite emotional resonance, provoke intellectual dissonance and conjure unexpected pathways of thinking.

About ArtCenter: Founded in 1930 and located in Pasadena, California, ArtCenter College of Design is a global leader in art and design education. ArtCenter offers 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degrees in a wide variety of industrial design disciplines as well as visual and applied arts. Renowned for both its ties to industry and its social impact initiatives, ArtCenter is the first design school to receive the United Nations’ Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status. Throughout the College’s long and storied history, ArtCenter alumni have had a profound impact on popular culture, the way we live and important issues in our society.

Marketing and Communications ArtCenter College of Design
Keith Wang, Coordinator
626 396-2338

Anna Macaulay, Director, Campus Communications
626 396-2205

Kwame Brathwaite, Untitled (Grandassa Models in Studio), c. 1972 (printed 2022)
Kwame Brathwaite, Untitled (The Supremes performing at the Apollo Theater), 1963