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Interview with Kenyatta Hinkle, VMP’s April Featured Visual Artist

On April 8, 2016



We interviewed the creator of the above print, which will come with every copy of Vinyl Me, Please's edition of The Score. 

To start off, your artwork is bursting at the seams both with influences and messages and your work is easily some of the most compelling we’ve come across. I mean, it’s honestly incredible stuff. So, to start, how did all this get started for you? Where did your art begin? 

Thank you so much for your kind words Tyler. To be honest I strongly feel that art chose me. I have never been able to reflect on a moment as a child when I wasn't drawing, writing poems or reading highly imaginative literary works. My love for visual art stems from my mother who is highly creative through drawing and hairbraiding. Her skills passed down to me, well the drawing did because I cannot braid hair to save my life! Lol

I grew up in the West End of Louisville, Kentucky where there is so much violence and crime that take the lives of so many young people. Art was also a safe haven from the streets and danger.

I majored in art in middle school, high school and I went to art school for my BFA and MFA so my art life has been filled with amazing teachers and creative guidance from a very early age. I have been very fortunate to be able to pursue art and gain admittance into some of the best public and private schools.

I was interviewing Lemi Ghariokwu last summer and he told me a story that’s stuck with me since. He said that one time, while Fela Kuti was in the hospital, Fela looked at him and called him The Artist, and since that day he began thinking of himself as an artist and not just as some who makes pieces of art. Was there a turning point like that for you? Did you have someone in your life that pushed you in the direction you’ve taken? Or was it all on your own volition? 

From an early age my family members and members of my community always referred to me as an artist. It is a practice that I take into the classroom as an art lecturer as a well. I am really fascinated by the power of naming and so often it's the things that we are called and never called that end up determining our paths. Because I was constantly creating or putting my own twist to what I saw in the world, being an artist was something that I did not separate from life and visa versa. Because I attended an amazingly intense art program in high school and college I used to think that being an artist was about making beautiful things. It wasn't until I attended grad school at CalArts and working on projects outside of the white cube of the gallery that I realized being an artist was also about not defining what my art is or how beautiful it needs to be. I became focused on the power of what art can do. So in a way I developed two early manifestations and relationships to what it means to be an Artist and those relationships continue to evolve as I continue on my journey as a creative being.

I’d love to hear a bit about your influences and some of things that have shaped your style and approach to art the most. Could you tell us a bit more about that? 

My influences are far and and wide. I look at art from all corners of the world. I am most drawn to artists and scholars who make work that is connected with race as a construct, post colonialism and identity politics. I am an avid reader so I am definitely affected by what I am reading at the time I am creating my visual work. Over the years I have been highly influenced by the work of Toni Morrison, Aime Cesaire, Franz Fanon, James Baldwin, Lucille Clifton and Maryse Conde. Some of my visual influences are: Kathe Kollowitz, Adrian Piper, Howardena Pindell, Nick Cave, Chris Ofili, The Mingering Mike project, Alison and Betye Saar, Jean Michel Basquiat, and the Egungun masquerade costumes of the Yoruba people in Nigeria.

What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve ever made? Could you show us a couple and walk us through why you made them and what they mean to you?

I have so many! This is hard!


The Uninvited 2009

This piece started my exploration of combining the colonial era postcard photos taken of West African women by mainly French photographers during the early 20th century. This piece was an investigation on working with the metaphor of colonialism as a disease inspired by Aime Cesaire's work on post colonialism.


How I learned my ABCs F is for Forgotten and Y is too 2010

This was a self portrait that describes my relationship with naming and unnaming. It depicts a brutal relationship with English as a language and what it means to learn how to navigate hostile environments as a person of color, classrooms included. During the time I created this piece I was studying the chalkboard and the English alphabet as tools of colonialism.


Tituba Syphons up her spectators in order to feed her young 2014

I love the energy and movement flowing throughout this piece. I work a lot with double images in which you can't tell if something is imploding or exploding, consuming or being consumed.


The Transfiguration 2015

I love this piece because it marks me finding my love for color on my work again after 6 years of working in black and white. It is also the first full on profile that I have done in relationship to my work with the postcard imagery. The piece has a whimsical energy even though the patterning on the woman's face is a disease that can cause complications for the reproductive system. It is an alluring image with layered meanings.

Your work for this Fugees release was incredible, can you talk to us a bit about what stuck out to you while listening to that album and what inspired you to make what you did? 

What stuck out to me the most was examining the images that the lyrics conjured up for me. I listened to the album and then I studied the lyrics and I kept finding smoke, masks and borders so I wanted to create this unknown mysterious figure that speaks to my work with colonial images from West Africa but also created a shift with darker moody elements that I found within the album. I also used sampling from my own previous sketchbooks and watercolor paintings to give the layered effect that you see within the colors and textures.

Lastly, I have to ask about music (sorry, it’s in my contract). Who are some of your favorite musicians, and are you listening to anything these days that you think we should check out?

Okay so I grew up in an extremely musical household so I could go on forever about the music I love. I am an old soul so a lot of the music I love was made before I was born! Here is an abbreviated list: The Delfonics, Otis Redding, Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holliday, Archie Shepp-Attica Blues, Stevie Wonder-Innervisions and The Secret Life of Plants, Chaka Demus & Pliers, Shaba Ranks (I love 90s dancehall!!) Busta Rhymes, and The Fugees of course, I love Baltimore Club Music, and Bjork!  I am interdisciplinary so I have a performance practice as well so I have been collaborating  with an amazing band called The Kevin Robinson Ensemble (KREation). Their work is interdisciplinary and stems from creative music and improvisation. They are totally amazing and you should check them out. I am always trying to diversify my musical influences but these are my everyday go to vibrations for now.


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