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Moses Myers House

323 E. Freemason St.
Open Saturday and Sunday

Noon–5 p.m.

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

Reading Room
Wednesday-Friday

10 a.m.–5 p.m.

About the Myers House

The oldest Jewish home in America open to the public as a museum offers a glimpse of the life of an early 19th century merchant family.
More about the house

About the Library

With an extensive collection of more than 106,000 rare and unique volumes relating to the history of art, the Jean Outland Chrysler Art Library is one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the library

Located in Norfolk

One Memorial Place,
Norfolk, VA
Get Directions

While You're Here

Visit our Museum Shop
and the Wisteria Cafe.

Perry Glass Studio

A state-of-art facility on the Museum’s campus. See a free glassmaking demo Tuesdays–Sunday at noon. Like what you see? Take a class with us! More about the Studio

Moses Myers House

The home of the first permanent Jewish residents of Norfolk, this historic house offers a glimpse of the life of a wealthy early 19th-century merchant family.
More about the house

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

With an extensive collection of more than 106,000 rare and unique volumes relating to the history of art, the Jean Outland Chrysler Library is one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the Library

Weddings & Event Rentals

The perfect place for your big day or special event. Get the details

Tours

Group tours will resume in August for groups of 5 or fewer. More about tours

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

Visit one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the library

About the Chrysler

Our story spans well over 100 years. See where we began, how we grew, and where we're going. Explore our history

News and Announcements

See what's happening at the Museum, read Chrysler Magazine, and find our Media Center. Read now

Location

745 Duke Street
Norfolk, VA 23510
757-333-6299

Always Free Parking

Get Directions

Third Thursdays

Live art performances monthly.
See the archive

Studio Team

Meet the brilliant minds behind the Studio.
See the team

Visiting Artist Series

Bringing the world’s top glass art talent to Hampton Roads
Find out more

Give the Chrysler Experience

Share everything you love about the Chrysler Museum with a gift membership. Perfect for everyone on your list.

The Masterpiece Society

Learn about this innovative group of museum supporters.
Meet the Masterpiece Society

Planned Giving

Help ensure the long-term success of the Museum.
Learn about planned giving

Moses Myers House

323 E. Freemason St.
Open Saturday and Sunday

Noon–5 p.m.

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

Reading Room
Wednesday-Friday

10 a.m.–5 p.m.

About the Myers House

The oldest Jewish home in America open to the public as a museum offers a glimpse of the life of an early 19th century merchant family.
More about the house

About the Library

With an extensive collection of more than 106,000 rare and unique volumes relating to the history of art, the Jean Outland Chrysler Art Library is one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the library

Located in Norfolk

One Memorial Place,
Norfolk, VA
Get Directions

While You're Here

Visit our Museum Shop
and the Wisteria Cafe.

Perry Glass Studio

A state-of-art facility on the Museum’s campus. See a free glassmaking demo Tuesdays–Sunday at noon. Like what you see? Take a class with us! More about the Studio

Moses Myers House

The home of the first permanent Jewish residents of Norfolk, this historic house offers a glimpse of the life of a wealthy early 19th-century merchant family.
More about the house

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

With an extensive collection of more than 106,000 rare and unique volumes relating to the history of art, the Jean Outland Chrysler Library is one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the Library

Weddings & Event Rentals

The perfect place for your big day or special event. Get the details

Tours

Group tours will resume in August for groups of 5 or fewer. More about tours

Jean Outland Chrysler Library

Visit one of the most significant art libraries in the South. More about the library

About the Chrysler

Our story spans well over 100 years. See where we began, how we grew, and where we're going. Explore our history

News and Announcements

See what's happening at the Museum, read Chrysler Magazine, and find our Media Center. Read now

Location

745 Duke Street
Norfolk, VA 23510
757-333-6299

Always Free Parking

Get Directions

Third Thursdays

Live art performances monthly.
See the archive

Studio Team

Meet the brilliant minds behind the Studio.
See the team

Visiting Artist Series

Bringing the world’s top glass art talent to Hampton Roads
Find out more

Give the Chrysler Experience

Share everything you love about the Chrysler Museum with a gift membership. Perfect for everyone on your list.

The Masterpiece Society

Learn about this innovative group of museum supporters.
Meet the Masterpiece Society

Planned Giving

Help ensure the long-term success of the Museum.
Learn about planned giving

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July 23, 2020

Objects of the Week: Kwame Brathwaite Photographs

Kwame Brathwaite (American, born 1938), Untitled (Model who embraced natural hairstyles at AJASS photoshoot)
1970, printed 2018, Archival pigment print, Museum purchase, in memory of Alice R. and Sol B. Frank © Kwame Brathwaite, 2019.34.3

In 2019, the Chrysler Museum added four works by photographer Kwame Brathwaite to the permanent collection. Two of the photographs are now on view at the Museum–one in the McKinnon Modern & Contemporary Wing (G225) and one in the African gallery (G110). Untitled (Model who embraced natural hairstyles at AJASS photoshoot) and Untitled (Grandassa Models, Merton Simpson Gallery) add to the Museum’s growing holdings in African American photography. The color and black-and-white pictures were selected from Brathwaite’s massive historical portfolio of images taken during the 1960s and 1970s and include a self-portrait and photoshoots with models.

Museum preparator, Mensah, installing Untitled (Model who embraced natural hairstyles at AJASS photoshoot) in Gallery 225.

Brathwaite and his brother Elombe founded the African Jazz Society and Studios (AJASS) and the Grandassa Models in the late 1950s. The siblings were entrepreneurs, artists, and political activists promoting self-pride within African Americans through breathtaking imagery of models, writers, musicians, and political leaders. “We’ve got to do something to make the women feel proud of their hair, proud of their blackness,” Brathwaite once said. The photographer and members of AJASS and Grandassa are credited with developing the iconic 1960s rallying cry, “Black is Beautiful.” Brathwaite’s works complement the Museum’s existing collection of Civil Rights photography and African American beauty culture.[1]

Kwame Brathwaite (American, b. 1938), Untitled (Grandassa Models, Merton Simpson Gallery), ca. 1967, printed 2017, Archival pigment print, Gift of Philip Martin and Portia Hein, © Kwame Brathwaite, 2019.34.2

In both Untitled (Grandassa Models, Merton Simpson Gallery) and Untitled (Model who embraced natural hairstyles at AJASS photoshoot) African American women are depicted wearing afros and headwraps, often donning Afrocentric designs. The former depicts Grandassa models wearing Ankara prints (wax prints produced in West Africa) with various west and central African art objects surrounding them within the Merton Simpson Gallery. The Merton Simpson Gallery was of note as it was one of the only African American-owned galleries focused on African art. Simpson (1929–2013) was an artist, collector, and art dealer. He started his gallery in the 1950s and was considered one of the most important dealers of traditional African art in the U.S. during the 1960s and ‘70s.[2] Brathwaite’s photograph not only showcases African American models but also references African art history and culture and African American artistic leaders.

In the photographer’s latter image, a Grandassa model gazing up into the distance is semi-nude, wearing a large feathered necklace and an afro. Brathwaite wanted African Americans to see and embody the beauty within themselves—their skin color, hairstyles, and facial features. This was especially important as Eurocentric notions of beauty were—and still are—the mainstream standards. During the mid-twentieth century, there were few examples of African American models. Sara Lou Harris was one of the first African American models to garner a national advertising campaign with Lucky Strike cigarettes in the 1940s.[3] Other prominent models such as Donayle Luna, Naomi Sims, and Pat Cleveland came later, mostly during the later 1960s and 1970s, but still subscribed to the mainstream beauty standards.

The Grandassa models were different because they challenged the existing societal constructions of beauty. The Brathwaite brothers focused on finding models already wearing natural styles. Though activists such as Angela Davis also wore natural hairstyles, the look was not the norm in the early 1960s, especially in public. “It was revolutionary. During that time—the 1950s and 60s—it was unacceptable to wear your hair in any natural hairstyle. The point that was being made was that you can be your natural self and be proud of who you are and not accept another person’s standard of beauty as your own.”[4]

Brathwaite’s images allow the Chrysler to promote the work of contemporary artists while also highlighting U.S. history. The Museum purchased two of the artworks. The remaining two that were recently added to the collection were gifts from Philip Martin and Portia Hein, the artist’s gallery. The Chrysler is thrilled to have these photographs in the collection. Not only are they breathtaking images, but they also reflect a legacy of artists wanting to promote African American beauty, culture, style, and political activism. These images will teach visitors much and provide opportunities for the Museum to highlight other works in the permanent collection.

—Kimberli Gant, PhD, McKinnon Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art

 

[1] Kwame Brathwaite, “Kwame Brathwaite’s Grandassa Models,” The New Yorker, March 11, 2019. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/03/18/kwame-brathwaites-grandassa-models

[2] Bruce Weber, “Merton D. Simpson, Painter, Collector, and Dealer in African Art, Dies at 84,” The New York Times, March 14, 2013. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/14/arts/design/merton-d-simpson-artist-and-gallery-owner-dies-at-84.html

[3] https://www.harlemworldmagazine.com/diva-sara-lou-harris-columbia-grad-first-black-model-featured-national-ad-campaign/

[4] Brandi Fowler, “We Started the Trend: The Grandassa Models were making sure we knew ‘Black is Beautiful’ long before Rihanna brought them to the mainstream.”  https://hellobeautiful.com/3052073/grandassa-models-and-rihanna/

From the Collection