Updated: Dec 11, 2021
Hi Everyone! In an effort to be more interactive and show more of my process in an expanded way outside of Instagram and Facebook, I've decided to start a blog where I can post process videos and share my thoughts on the creative processes behind the pieces that I make and what inspires them.
To start things off, I thought I'd share my experience at the Black is Beautiful photography exhibit of Kwame Brathwaite at the Detroit Institute of Arts, so, here goes!
Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite
Some people may not know this about me, but I am pretty much a homebody. Unless it's to go get something eat, I'm completely content watching YouTube or playing games all day outside of work! I've got a good group of friends though that are inclined towards the arts who occasionally invite me out to different events and a lot of times our outings can be very educational and/or inspiration to me. In this case, I got invited to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), where I learned of the Black is Beautiful exhibit. Before going, I will be honest, I had no knowledge of the exhibit, or of Kwame Brathwaite's work. I didn't even know that it was this exhibit that my friends specially went there to see. Going in blind though, allowed to have a unique and fresh experience, seeing his work, and the history he was a part of, with fresh eyes.
Cited from the DIA, Black Is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite is the first major exhibition dedicated to Brathwaite, a vital figure of the second Harlem Renaissance. ... Grandassa Models—the subject of much of the exhibition's contents— was a modeling agency for black women, founded to challenge white beauty standards.
There were a lot of really powerful photos that stood out to me, but two in particular held my attention in such a way, that I knew when I got home I wanted to draw them.
The first of those Images: Natural...Yes! Wigs...No
I'd like to preface this by saying that I respect a person's choice to wear their hair however they like, be it natural, or with wigs, weaves, etc.
to put the photo in context, as cited from the DIA-
In 1963, a white-owned wig shop called Wigs Parisian expanded from their Brooklyn location and opened up a storefront on 125th Street in Harlem. “Hearing that two white men were trying to open a shop to sell Black women a dream of European beauty—through the artifice of straight-haired wigs—the ANPM staged a protest,” writes Ford. Brathwaite captured images of this powerful protest with his Hasselblad camera, which accompanied him everywhere he went, and local newspapers covered the protest. The shop owners, apprehensive about an upcoming battle, decided to close the shop.
In this image, Nomsa Brath marches in front of Wigs Parisian wearing her natural hairstyle and a sign over her dress that reads “Natural...Yes! Wigs...No.” It was clear to Brathwaite and AJAS that Black women were essential in creating change around the conceptions of beauty. This protest was a catalyst for the Black Is Beautiful movement and marked the beginning of the Grandassa Models.
Without the context in mind at the time that I saw it, this photo spoke to me on a personal level. for many years I was not proud of my natural hair, in large part because I was made fun of for it. There's a lot of trauma there so I wont go in too deep, but in short, like many young black girls I was conditioned to believe that being presentable meant that I had to have my hair pressed or permed, and if I wanted to work, I had to be "presentable". According to the plaques next to some of the photos, some of the models felt the same, and I felt that, and wanted to memorialize that feeling by drawing it in my own way...
Now I've neeeeever really been good at just drawing what I see. (Got in trouble a lot in college because of that when it came to doing figure studies lol) I just have a very vivid imagination and when my hand and mind are working together, I kind of have a "come what may" approach when I'm drawing, and I just love to let my work evolve as I go, and see what I have when it's done. Though my original sketch looked closer to the photo, as I meditated on the context of the photo, my sketch began to change. Her Afro became big and wild, and her pose turned into her somewhat dancing in celebration, in the sense that Black women and men are more free today to wear their hair naturally. As for her dress, there was another photo in the gallery that resembled it. I included the pattern to pay homage to the show. In all, she is a culmination of all those things and was very fun to draw.
The second image that caught my eye-
Sikolo Brathwaite, AJASS, Harlem, ca. 1968
I just really love her pose, her gaze, the colors, and the pattern of her shirt-- all of it is just stunning and I found myself coming back to this piece the most. Unlike the first drawing, I approached this one more like a portrait study, to try my hand at capturing all the beautiful elements in the photo that caught my eye.
I played around a lot with the colors, making them bolder and enjoyed working with different textured brushes to get the different effects. This one took about 2 hours to paint, which I documented by creating a process video, condensed down to one minute that you can view here-
If you managed to make it down this far into the blog post, I thank you, and Hope you enjoyed my sketches!
Till next time,