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CAAM exhibits the diversity of the disappearing black woman

by Rosalie Atkinson | Off-Ramp®

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"Dispersion" (detail). Acrylic ink and paint on canvas. (Courtesy of Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle)

Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle's "The Evanesced" was inspired by the #SayHerName movement against police violence, as well as Los Angeles's Grim Sleeper serial killer. Hinkle depicts black women in the nude, twisting and writhing, as though they're sinking back into the canvas. Or are they reemerging from it?

Deputy Director of the California African American Museum Naima Keith says Hinkle's exhibit looks at the "historical present," the way in which history still affects us today, harkening back to slavery and Jim Crow. Keith says the main issue Hinkle is addressing is the invisibility of black women, especially those who are abused or in danger. 

Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle: "The Evanesced" selection of paintings (Courtesy of California African American Museum)
Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle: "The Evanesced" selection of paintings (Courtesy of California African American Museum)

Hinkle was particularly inspired by the South LA serial killer "The Grim Sleeper." He is accused of murdering over one hundred women from the 1980's onward, until being captured in 2007. Many of his victims were women of color according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

"He had been killing prostitutes and runaways and drug addicted women," says Keith, noting that some saw these deaths as occupational hazards.

"The Evanesced #13, 2016" India ink and watercolor on recycled paper. (Courtesy of Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle)
"The Evanesced #13, 2016" India ink and watercolor on recycled paper. (Courtesy of Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle)

Most of Hinkle's subjects in the paintings and sketches in "The Evanesced" are clearly nude. This was a deliberate choice to showcase femininity, according to Keith. She says:

She’s talking about being women... There’s love, there’s joy, there’s pain. All things we experience as all women... But [nudity], I think, allows us to focus on the female form, not necessarily get caught up on what they are wearing or what they’re doing.

Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle: "The Evanesced" sketches (Courtesy of California African American Museum)
Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle: "The Evanesced" sketches (Courtesy of California African American Museum)

In the artwork, viewers can see that every face, body, and hair style is completely unique to each sketch or painting. Keith says this helps the viewer appreciate the diversity amongst women of color. She says:

You have women that are smiling. You have women that are looking at you- you know- lovingly, shyly. Not every one, not every image in the show is about negativity, disappearance, or sadness. There is a bit of celebration. There’s interaction between multiple women. That’s what makes the body of work so interesting: it’s not just seeing women of color through one lens. There’s the possibility of seeing them through, like I said, disappearance, and also the freedom to have a wide range of emotions.

Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle's "The Evanesced" installation featuring "Uproot, 2017" (Courtesy of Brian Forrest)
Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle's "The Evanesced" installation featuring "Uproot, 2017" (Courtesy of Brian Forrest) Brian Forrest

There is one painting that continues to draw Naima Keith back to it. It is called "Uproot 2017" and it features a feminine figure with three exposed breasts. She says this painting speaks to her about motherhood and the connection women have with their changing bodies. Keith says:

I asked Kenyatta why she depicts women with multiple [extra] breasts and we had a conversation about being moms. Kenyatta and I are both mothers of young children... As moms, we just kinda talked about how things aren't what they used to be, in terms of where they used to be. Like I said, becoming mothers, you have this different relationship with your body in relation to someone else.

Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle's "The Evanesced" runs at the California African American Museum through June 25, 2017.

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