Autograph has loaned three works from our collection by artist Raphael Albert to the Wellcome Collection's exhibition The Cult of Beauty.
The notion and pursuit of beauty is intertwined with the entirety of human history socially, culturally, philosophically, scientifically and medically. In every culture and era, an ideal of beauty presents itself as the universal value worthy of going to great lengths to attain and sustain. The Cult of Beauty asks, what shapes those driving forces that have led us to believe in a myth of universal beauty despite its clearly evolving nature.
The exhibition will explore across time and cultures, how we came to develop the perceptions and beliefs we have of beauty through notions such as morality, status and health, ageism, ableism, colourism/racism/whiteness and gender. Tracing a history of innovations in the beauty industry and their interactions with science, from Burroughs Wellcome’s Hazeline Beauty cream to cosmetic fillers; the corset to the perfect selfie, it will also investigate how commercialisation and design in the 20th century turned pharmaceuticals into a full-blown beauty industry. Through new artist commissions and contemporary loans, the exhibition will both question and celebrate what beauty means to different communities, particularly marginalised ones, in our world today.
Raphael Albert (1935-2009) was born on the Caribbean island of Grenada. After moving to London in 1953, he studied photography at Ealing Technical College whilst working part-time at Lyons cake factory. Albert soon became a freelance photographer working for black British newspapers such as West Indian World – for whom one of his first assignments was documenting Miss Jamaica – as well as The Gleaner, Caribbean Times and New World.
In 1970 he established the popular Miss Black and Beautiful contest, followed by Miss West Indies in Great Britain, Miss Teenager of the West Indies in Great Britain and Miss Grenada. In addition to his production company Albert Promotions, he also founded his own magazine Charisma in 1984, and the associated Albert’s Girl Academy of Modelling. Albert remained committed to documenting the West Indian communities in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham throughout his life, taking home-studio portrait photographs for local families, and avidly documenting weddings, christenings, and other social events.
In 2007 Albert co-organised a Black History Month display of his and other photographers’ work entitled Miss West Indies in Great Britain: Celebrating 30 Years of Beauty Pageants (1963-1993) at the Hammersmith and Fulham Information Centre. His work is now represented in the national collections of the V&A and Tate Britain.
Autograph is a place to see things differently. Since 1988, we have championed photography that explores issues of race, identity, representation, human rights and social justice, sharing how photographs reflect lived experiences and shape our understanding of ourselves and others.Donate Join our mailing list