Kwame Brathwaite

b. 1938, United States

Untitled (Clara Lewis Buggs with Yellow Flower), 1962
Archival pigment print
Edition of 5

Text and image courtesy Philip Martin gallery, United States

This is one of Brathwaite's earliest colour images. This pensive piece depicts Grandassa Model Clara Lewis Buggs. Ms. Buggs's 1961 victory in the African National Pioneer Movement's "Miss Natural Standard of Beauty" contest catalyzed Kwame Brathwaite's "Black is Beautiful" work. Images of Buggs wearing her hair "in a Zulu style" appeared in the Liberator in 1963, and in other publications, and are discussed in-depth by Tanisha Ford in her essay in the recent Aperture catalog on Brathwaite's work.

Kwame Brathwaite’s photographs were specifically intended to shape the course of American visual discourse. Brathwaite and his older brother, Elombe Brath, and the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) popularised the phrase “Black Is Beautiful” in the late 50s and early 60s.

The 1961 Garvey Day Celebration’s “The Miss Natural Standard of Beauty Contest,” was a catalyzing moment for the brothers who saw clearly that the same models who eschewed make-up and wore their hair “natural” for the contest would, by the following Sunday (when they came to pick up their prize money), have straightened their hair in order to feel comfortable going back to school, work, and their everyday lives.