Meet the Designer of the “Black Is Beautiful” Mural September 6, 2019

Graphic designer Bob Gumbs shares his vision for an iconic poster and talks about his role in the landmark 1960s movement.

Standing 20 feet tall in the exhibition Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography is the striking “Black Is Beautiful” mural—a large-scale reproduction of the poster that exemplified the “Black Is Beautiful” movement. Graphic designer Bob Gumbs describes his role within the movement and his inspiration behind the now-iconic poster.

What’s the “Black Is Beautiful” movement? What was the driving force behind it?
“Black Is Beautiful” celebrates the beauty of black people: their dark skin color, facial features, and natural hair. The movement began in the 1960s with inspiration from Marcus Garvey, the great Jamaican, Pan-Africanist leader, who in the 1920s encouraged people of African descent around the world to be proud of their African beauty and culture.

Describe your role in the movement and your connection to photographer Kwame Brathwaite.
I was a member of the African Jazz Art Society & Studios (AJASS), a cultural organization of artists and photographers founded by Kwame Brathwaite and his brother, Elombe Brath. In 1962, AJASS created a series of African-inspired “Naturally” hair and fashion shows featuring the Grandassa Models to promote “Black Is Beautiful” and the natural-hair movement.

What was your design inspiration? How was the poster used within the “Black Is Beautiful” movement?
I was inspired by the tremendous success of the “Naturally” hair and fashion shows. In 1970, I designed the “Black Is Beautiful” poster using Kwame Brathwaite’s photographs of the Grandassa Models to promote these shows.

What is it like to see your work on view at the MFAH in the Icons of Style exhibition—especially 20 feet tall?
It is an honor for me and a highlight of my career as an artist to see the “Black Is Beautiful” poster, reproduced as a large mural in this historic fashion photography exhibition. The “Black Is Beautiful” movement—and Kwame Brathwaite’s photographs published in newspapers and magazines and shown in exhibitions around the country—continue to have a positive influence on how people see the beauty of black women today.

► See the “Black Is Beautiful” mural, the work of Kwame Brathwaite, and more in “Icons of Style: A Century of Fashion Photography” on view in the Law Building through September 22.