On October 29, 2020, the Place for Writers hosted a discussion and question-and-answer session over Zoom with interdisciplinary visual artist, writer and performer Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle. Hinkle has a dual MFA in Art and Critical Studies/Creative Writing from CalArts and is the author of two books: “Kentifrications: Convergent Truth(s) and Realities,” about a “contested geography/continent” called Kentifrica, and “Sir,” a biographical collection of poetry and photography.
Hinkle opened the talk by describing the nature of her art.
“I’ve always kind of had this hybrid practice,” she said. “And so I’m really, really interested in kind of bridging those gaps between my art exhibitions, the objects that I make, and also text. A lot of texts and things that I read become catalysts for the works that I make, and vice versa.”
She outlined her plan for the presentation ahead: to recount the experiences that led to publishing each of her works, so the audience could realize “the different spectrum of how you can get your work out there.”
Beginning the visual component of her presentation, Hinkle pulled up a map of the world and invited the audience to tell her what seemed different than usual. After a few correct but slightly off-the-mark answers — that it didn’t center North America and that Africa was represented at an accurate scale, observations to which Hinkle responded, “Talk about that hegemonic visual domination, right?” — an audience member hit on the correct reply: the map depicted a sizable landmass between Africa and South America. This, Hinkle explained, is Kentifrica, a project which she has been working on since 2011.
To explain Kentifrica’s origin, Hinkle recounted both her experience being called “Little Africa” as she grew up in Kentucky and her experience with being identified as a foreigner when she traveled to Nigeria in 2015.
She remarked, “I always thought that was so interesting, that my body was constantly kind of torn between these very different and similar geographies. And I remember I went to my mom, and I said, ‘Mom, I’m so tired of people assuming that I’m, like, from these geographies. […] What does it mean for people to keep placing me in these places?’ And so she said, ‘The next time somebody asks you if you’re from Ghana, if you’re from here, if you’re from there, say yes. Say yes, you are.’ And I said, ‘I can’t just make something up?’ And she was like ‘Why not?’ and I was like ‘What?’ And through that question of, you know, ‘Why not? Why can’t you just affirm where you want to be from?’ That really opened me up in grad school and helped me to start thinking about all of these different possibilities of being.”
Since 2011, Hinkle has been working both individually and with other artists and researchers to develop an “archive of Kentifrican thought,” creating traditional hairstyles, recipes, music and other information, as well as physical objects like Kentifrican passports. A significant portion of the work took place during her time as Occidental College’s 2017/2018 Wanlass Artist in Residence; the residency required her to publish a work, resulting in the release of “Kentifrications.”
Of her experience publishing the book through Occidental, Hinkle said, “It was amazing, because they were like, ‘Okay, you have seven thousand dollars budgeted toward this, you have to make a publication.’ And I was like, ‘You don’t have to tell me twice.’ And it was amazing because Occidental College, they’re the official publishers of this, but due to my residency, they didn’t require any royalties — no dynamics in which they would quote-unquote profit from it. It was mine fully to disseminate, to sell, to do whatever I wanted to do with it.”
Speaking to the significance of her Kentifrica project, Hinkle said, “So I’m really trying to challenge who gets to dictate history, and culture, and also thinking about…a lot of journalists will say, ‘Kenyatta made up Kentifrica, it doesn’t exist and it’s not real.’ And I get so pissed off about that because I’m like, well, America is a contested geography, America is a fiction.”
Hinkle then detailed the origin of her second book, “Sir”, which is named for her brother.
“I was on the phone with my mother, and she was like, ‘You know, every time I call out your brother’s name in the grocery store, all of the white men turn around as if I’m addressing them.’ And when she said that, I got chills in my entire body,” Hinkle said. “So at that point, I knew I needed to write the book about my brother, Sir, and his name.”
A picture of the book’s cover filled her screen. Gesturing to the cover, she explained, “This is a piece that was in my thesis exhibition. So you have my exhibition literally wrapping around my writing project.”
She also presented various images that did and did not make it into the final manuscript, including family photos, posters demanding the return of escaped enslaved persons and the first piece of hate mail Hinkle ever received.
“Sir” was released by Litmus Press in 2019. Hinkle said that the manuscript sat “in limbo” with the press for multiple years before its publication.
“[It] was a pretty frustrating process,” she said. “But in May of 2019, it was out into the world. And I realized that it needed that time, you know. As a mother — the BLM movement happening — just, so many things happened that were able to go into the final, final, final manuscript.”
Once Hinkle wrapped up her presentation, the question-and-answer section began, moderated by Summer Young.
When asked how she bridges art and writing, Hinkle responded, “I’m still trying to figure out how to do that, because some things need to be written, and some things need to be danced, and some things need to be sculpted. What I do is, I give them all permission to share the same space. […] So, through me being interdisciplinary — and stubborn — I have decided to just create my own context and spaces for me to be able to do all of that. But sometimes it’s so hard. If I’m writing too much, then I’m not doing art enough. If I’m doing my art too much, then I’m not writing enough. So it’s always a push and pull.”
When asked about the potential benefits of publishing through a small press, Hinkle said, “That’s such a good question because through my own experiences, I didn’t realize that small presses don’t sell that many books, like, per year. It’s just, like, not even expected. I talked to SPD, Small Press Distributors, and they were like, yeah, a good year is like, sixty-one books per title. And I was like, excuse me, this is about my brother’s name, it’s got my family’s blood — what do you mean? This needs to go all over the world, I need to sell a thousand copies, I need — you know, I really believe in the power of this work. And so sometimes in a small press publishing world, things can get even more insular, and people can kind of get comfortable with that whole kind of, like, underground element. Or ‘Nobody’s really going to read this, I’m just doing this for, you know, the love of it,’ and I actually have some concerns about that. Because if it’s a story that needs to be told and it needs to get out there […] I actually want to inspire a lot of people to start their own presses, start your own initiatives, be in control of your own literature and have it go into your own hands so you can be in control of how much people read it or how little.”
She then addressed the audience directly: “You are all the next generation of writers. You’re getting your degrees, right now. And I would really encourage you all to start publishing your own stories and finding ways to get your own work out. And, you know, if it fails, it fails. If it’s successful, it’s successful. But at least it’s from your efforts, and not from depending on other institutions, or false mission statements, or various things like that.”
Hinkle concluded the talk by encouraging aspiring artists to message her, promising, “I will get to you. I love talking to writers, emerging artists — especially people who are like, ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.’ I’m like, ‘Me too, girl!’ So I’m definitely available.”
Hinkle can be contacted via her website, kachstudio.com.