Supreme has a thing for featuring Malcolm X, and we’re not mad at it. The streetwear brand’s latest collection features the work of renowned Harlem artist Roy DeCarava, and includes a hoodie and tee featuring a vivid black and white photograph of the slain Civil Rights activist.
DeCarava was born in Harlem in 1919, and although he was accomplished in various mediums, his photography is what earned him the most praise. Supreme provided a history lesson when announcing their collab with his estate.
Before making photographs, DeCarava trained as a painter, printmaker and draftsman – initially using a camera as a reference tool for painting. By the late 1940s, DeCarava was printing striking, shadowy silver gelatin prints that would open up new technical possibilities in contemporary photography. Teju Cole wrote about the unique signature of DeCarava’s work, noting “the chiaroscuro effects came from technical choices: a combination of underexposure, darkroom virtuosity and occasionally printing on soft paper.”
DeCarava’s photographs were first exhibited in New York in 1950. In 1952, he became the first African American photographer to win a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. The Fellowship’s grant enabled DeCarava to embark on a project that would eventually become The Sweet Flypaper of Life, a rich and innovative collaboration with poet Langston Hughes. Hughes chose a selection of DeCarava’s photographs and composed a vivid fictional narrative from the perspective of a Harlem grandmother, Sister Mary Bradley. The Sweet Flypaper of Life remains a luminous work of collaborative storytelling, and is considered a photo-book touchstone. DeCarava followed up with another ground-breaking publication in 1960, the sound i saw, a handmade artist book tracking his engagement of the fiery jazz music scene of New York City.
Throughout his life, DeCarava championed the advancement of fine art photography and supported and inspired generations of photographers. From 1955 to 1957, he established and ran The Photographer’s Gallery, the first gallery in the country to focus exclusively on American fine art photography. In 1975, DeCarava joined the faculty of Hunter College, where he taught both undergraduate and MFA courses for decades. He was named Distinguished Professor of Art in 1988.
Before you even go there about a corporation co-opting the work of a Black artist—which is often a valid issue—Supreme did its due diligence. The brand worked directly with the DeCarava Archives on the collection and all of its proceeds will go to benefit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.
The collection features two tees (Mississippi Tee and Malcolm X Tee) and a hoodie (Malcolm X Hooded Sweatshirt). If they want to really keep it a bean, sell the piece in the Schomburg and assure people from the same community Malcolm loved can get their hands on the attire, too.
Supreme dropped some gear emblazoned with Malcolm X’s image back in 2015. A hoodie from that collection which was about $125 sold for over $700 last year via StockX.
The new Supreme x Roy DeCarava collection for Spring 2022 will be available May 19 (Malik el-Shabazz’s birthday, by the way) stateside and May 21 in Japan.