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‘Black’ is beautiful at new photo exhibit from Brooklyn’s past

Jacqui Woods has lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant for nearly 40 years. She moved to the neighborhood when it was really in decline — when political unrest and riots were prevalent — but it’s not the bad times she remembers but the good ones.

“The 1960s was a great, challenging time, and yet the community found the resources and had the leadership to meet those challenges,” said Woods, an arts manager at the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, a community group that, in part, promotes arts and culture in the neighborhood. “It was also a great period of building and finding comfort in small places, like community gardens and church.”

With that, Woods has curated “Eyewitness To: Beautiful Black Brooklyn,” a photography exhibit at the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration complex’s Skylight Gallery featuring dozens of rare images from the 1960s to the 1980s that are representative of that spirit — from performances by jazz legends Randy Weston and Noel Pointer to dancing at Restoration Plaza to singing in church.

One of the curator’s favorite discoveries in the exhibit is a photograph by Beuford Smith of two young men dressed for church on Easter Sunday — sporting baggy track pants, and top hats.

Little gems like that are scattered throughout the exhibit, which, in addition to Smith, features the mostly black-and-white photography of Larry Brown, LeRoy Henderson, Marilyn Nance, and Randy Waterman.

The pieces are organized thematically — by political events, such as Waterman’s impromptu image of Muhammad Ali campaigning for mayoral candidate Percy Sutton at Restoration Plaza in 1977; spiritual and religious, including Nance’s photograph of female church-goers in rapture; and photos that capture the look of the time, such as Henderson’s 1977 image of a mustachioed beatnik wearing a shirt that reads “Black is Beautiful.”

“Each one is amazing,” said Woods. “People get an opportunity to see all of this wonderful work from these artists who were eyewitnesses to this time in history. It’s quite a ride.”

“Eyewitness To: Beautiful Black Brooklyn” at the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration complex’s Skylight Gallery [1368 Fulton St. between Brooklyn and New York avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant, (718) 636-6949], now through Sep. 30. For info, visit www.restorationplaza.org.

— Meredith Deliso

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