“Take the kinks out of your head, not out of your hair.”
~ Black nationalist and separatist Marcus Garvey
“My hair is incontrovertible,” read a souvenir pin at the New York Historical Society gift shop. Harlem artist and activist Kwame Brathwaite’s work is on display at the museum through Sunday, January 15.
But looking at the exhibits, black hair (remember the conks?) in both women and men were very much a part of Brathwaite’s life when he was born into a family of artists, entrepreneurs, and black nationalists in the 1960s. must conclude that it was controversial. , accepted Garvey’s motto.
One of the exhibition’s most striking photos shows three black women wearing Afro sports (including Kwame’s sister-in-law, Nomsa) picketing the white-owned Wigs Parisian store in Harlem. It is a picture of the following poster surrounded by . ! No wigs! However, although not depicted in the exhibit, the accompanying commemorative book shows a protest photo of a straight-haired black woman holding up a poster that reads: Decide for yourself.” “If it suits you, wear it!”
When I saw the exhibit, one of the visitors, school board superintendent Harlemite Monte Jackson, described the ordeal of two cousins in Virginia having their hair straightened by their great-grandmother. while we were sewing our group together. She had this iron comb which she warmed on the burner of the stove. She kept telling them to sit still, but they wouldn’t. When another cousin came into the room and asked what it smelled like, I said, “Your cousin’s head is cooking.”
Funny stories aside, the exhibit isn’t just about black hair, perverts, and straights. about opening businesses such as ), black economic empowerment (“By Black”), and black solidarity with the African Liberation Movement (Kwame and Erombe). arranged for Nelson Mandela to visit New York after his 27-year imprisonment). Historian Tanisha Ford, text writer for the exhibit, said: They were the awakened set of their generation. “
Sons of Barbados immigrants, Ronald-born Kwame and Cecil-born brother Elonbe attended the School of Industrial Arts (now the High School of Music and Design). After graduating, they co-founded AJASS (African Jazz-Art Society and Studio), a radical collective of playwrights, photographers, sculptors, graphic artists, dancers and fashion designers. They promoted jazz, which they considered rebel music, and moved downtown, then back uptown. Kwame has photographed jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey and Count Basie. Elombe designed his cover for the album and placed a dark-skinned afro sporting his model on the cover.
After forming a theater company in the early 1960s, he formed a model group. Grandassa celebrated the beauty of black women’s bodies and natural hair through fashion shows and photo shoots. and defied the fashion trends of the time dominated by Europe.
Grandassa models often designed and sewn their own clothes, using kente cloth wrap skirts and wearing bold, colorfully patterned dresses. in her book, Unleashed Threads: Global Politics of Black Women, Style, and Soul, Ford wrote: Black women were encouraged to be their authentic selves. They were beasts with sewing machines, stitching and making a tailor’s dream come true. “
Kwame and Elonbe established the “Miss Natural Standard of Beauty” contest, where each year, sometimes semi-annually, the Apollo Theater and the recently controversially-demolished Renaissance Casino and Ballroom celebrate “Natural”. staged a pageant called.
But these “deserved” celebrations were more than fashion shows. They were also an opportunity to spread the message of fundraisers, awareness raisers and Garveys and hear speeches by African freedom fighters. Fashion, entrepreneurship, black liberation, black empowerment, all mixed together, and this gave the slogan “black is beautiful” a fuller meaning.
Most notably, all this struggle, striving, innovation and creation took place against the backdrop of tragedy and loss. The Vietnam War, the crack epidemic, the Harlem gang war. But despite all this, the Brathwaite brothers continued to pursue their goal of fostering black empowerment and pride.
The photos in this exhibit are not random shots taken on the streets of Harlem. The Brathwaite brothers will celebrate this exhibit by creating scenes and events filmed by Kwame.