Monday, July 15, 2019

Where to Be Merry: The “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” Exhibition @ Skirball Cultural Center, Westside

The Merriment: A temporary art installation featuring the works of Kwame Brathwaite, a Harlem-based photographer who helped bring the “Black is Beautiful” cultural movement to the masses through his visionary artistic direction and captivating photos taken in the 1950s and 1960s. 

The Location: Westside

The Vibes: Informative, historical, beautiful

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (small and large), the kiddies

When-To-Go: Weekends, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Tuesday – Fridays, noon – 5 p.m.; closed Mondays. This exhibition officially wraps up Sunday, September 1, 2019.

The $$ Factor: General admission, $12; Seniors, full-time students and children over 12, $9; Children 2 – 12, $7

The Names behind the scenes: Photographer Kwame Brathwaite & the Aperture Foundation (exhibition organizer)

The 4-1-1: The Skirball boasts one permanent gallery and four temporary exhibitions. Exhibitions are FREE on Thursdays, and free daily for Skirball members and children under two. 

Parking Situation: Complimentary onsite parking

I’ll Be Back…: When the exhibition travels to San Francisco, later this year! 

 Earlier this summer, during a trip to scout the Skirball Cultural Center for a potential upcoming event, I stumbled upon a hidden gem. 

You see, what I had always known about this prestigious indoor-outdoor complex is that it’s been a go-to destination for the city’s classy affairs for decades. Nestled right up against the Santa Monica Mountains off the 405 freeway, it's housed sophisticated graduations, ritzy class reunions, elegant weddings — you name it — since first opening its doors in 1996.

Yet what I didn’t know was that this expansive cultural center also has both permanent and temporary art exhibitions! 

Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the “Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite” Exhibition, during my site visit. I learned that Brathwaite, a Harlem-based photographer, established the African Jazz Art Society and Studios (AJASS) collective of various artists in the 1950s and also created the Grandassa Models group for black women in the ‘60s and ‘70s. His photos uplift and celebrate African-American beauty, through snapshots of snazzily dressed models, prominent artists and every day people in ordinary situations. 

A larger-than-life, black-and-white photo of a Grandassa model on the Harlem Apollo Theater stage (1968) greets guests, right before entering the exhibition (first photo in this post, up top). And throughout the handful of exhibition rooms, Brathwaite’s photos, dresses from the era, African-inspired jewelry, music records and other knick-knacks are proudly displayed. 

I think what I loved so much about this exhibition is that I felt like I was coming "home." Immediately, as I stepped into the room, I was greeted by smiling faces framed by powerful Afros and with beautiful brown skin, often adorned in Afrocentric attire. These women looked like me! And, they were beautiful!

To some degree, I also felt like I was looking at intimate family portraits — that just so happened to be blown up and hung onto a wall. These women could’ve been (and probably were) somebody’s wives, aunties, lovers, mothers, sisters, best friends and daughters. I love how Brathwaite captures their effortless grace, whether when posing while adorning the latest fashion, or while casually (and confidently!) sitting on the hood of a car. It’s grace that feels natural, genuine and truly within the moment.

What also struck me as interesting is how the issues of today are so similar — if not the same — that Braithwaite captured 40, 50 years ago. Even now, there’s still continued efforts to support local black-owned businesses and a need to exalt Afrocentric beauty in spite of it not being publicized in mainstream channels. 

It’s easy to breeze through the exhibition in about 30 minutes or so, and admission also includes access to two other temporary exhibitions —“Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” and “Spotlight: Andy Warhol” — and the permanent collection, “Visions and Values” (there’s another temporary exhibition, Noah’s Ark, that is an additional fee to access). 

“Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich” highlights the life of this fashion designer who created first-ever pantsuit for women, wireless bra and other apparel firsts. It's a wondrous, colorful display of his timeless clothing, and I'd definitely rock many of those outfits, to this day. 

“Spotlight: Andy Warhol,” on the other hand, showcases 10 modern, colorful portraits of “Jewish geniuses” according to Warhol — from Franz Kafka to Sigmund Freud. I love how he uses such vibrant colors on the black-and-white photos to paint these luminaries in a different light. 

I haven’t been to the “Visions and Values” collection but it’s on my list to visit soon! 

So the next time you find yourself caught in Friday evening traffic on the 405, in between the Valley and Los Angeles, swerve over to the Skirball Cultural Center to relax and be inspired by all the incredible art there. But hurry and don’t wait too long — they’ll be gone before you know it. 

See you there soon!

For more information: 

No comments:

Post a Comment