Kenyatta Hinkle, who lives and works in Los Angeles and Berkeley, California is a visual artist, performer, and writer. She works with video, photography, painting, fiber, beading, and collage. Her emotive and expressive work focuses on black women whose bodies have been occupied, objectified, devalued as ‘territory’, and then erased.
Hinkle grew up in Kentucky and was raised by a single mother, who was also an artist. However, her mother, living in the segregated South, wasn’t able to pursue her own creative dreams. Hinkle received her B.F.A. in painting from the Maryland Institute College of Art. In 2009, she enrolled in the California Institute of the Arts where she received an M.F.A. in Critical Studies. She was always Interested in language and in the words used to articulate prejudices. “Words are weapons and I’m really interested in the business of naming.” She is an Assistant Professor at the University of California at Berkeley and credits African American artists Adrian Piper and Kara Walker as influences.
In her 2009 “The Uninvited Series” she focused on late 19th and early 20th century postcards made by French Colonialists that documented so-called African life. It depicted West African women in sexualized ‘Native’ positions. She painted on top of the photos or marked them up with ink drawings to cover the women and to give them varied backgrounds. These new images exemplified for her ‘The Historical Present’, and several of the larger images are on display outdoors at the Los Angeles’s Music Center.
In 2012, she was the youngest artist included in the Hammer Biennial, “Made in L.A.” Her work was a performance-based installation “Kentrifica,” a fictional nation which merged Kentucky and Africa. The layered piece studied migration, social structures, and cross-cultural experiences where viewers became collaborators and participants, eating traditional cuisine, making crafts, and playing instruments. She created an ancient-looking map of Kentrifica in earth-tones and constructed personal histories in her invented Kentrifican language, written in ink calligraphy.
In 2013, Hinkle created “The Tituba Black Witch of Salem Series,” which was made with India ink, graphite, and charcoal. It was based on a novel written in 1992 about the black woman – now thought to be of South American Arawak descent – who was a pivotal figure in the Salem Witch Trials. Hinkle said that her Tiituba series “is about how the body of the other is used as scapegoat onto which fears and imaginative exotic fantasies are projected.”
Hinkle is appalled by the disappearance and erasure of forgotten African American women. In 2016, after finishing a Fulbright fellowship in Nigeria, Hinkle returned to the United States and studied the case of a convicted serial killer. This man had murdered nine young black women and a teenager in Los Angeles over a twenty to thirty year period and was sentenced to death. Investigators suspected that he killed many more. Hinkle was obsessed with the idea that a serial killer could go uncaught for thirty years after killing so many African-American women. Her interest in this and her knowing from the 2010 census that 64,000 African American women were reported missing informed her 2016 exhibition “Evanesced.”
In this work images first appear to be random intersections of curves. Specific women are not depicted. Rather there are amorphous representations of bodies. Hinkle draws her elusive figures with handmade brushes while improvising dances to blues, hip-hop, and club music in a gallery performance, “The Evanesced: Embodied Disappearance.” Here she gives memory to the thousands of black women who have disappeared due to colonialism, human trafficking, homicide, and other forms of erasure. “There’s no real outlet for the past, no walking away from it, washing it off. That’s how I feel about history, we’re all haunted by it.”
Hinkle has had works shown in numerous group exhibitions in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, United Kingdom, and South Africa. She has had solo exhibitions in the Museum of Art at the University of New Hampshire, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California African American Museum in Los Angeles, and in San Francisco’s The Museum of the African Diaspora.