Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle is an artist and currently a Fulbright fellow in Lagos, Nigeria, where she is working with students and faculty from the University of Lagos on her Kentifrica Project, 2010–, an ongoing piece about a hybrid, contested geography. Her latest exhibition, which features this work and two more projects (the “Tituba” series, 2013–, and the “Uninvited” series, 2008–), is titled “Who Among Us… The Art of Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle” and is on view at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco through April 3, 2016.
I AM USING MY FIRST MONTHS IN NIGERIA to learn more about navigating Lagos, to cook Nigerian foods, and to learn the local mythologies. Over these past weeks I have met a few students who are excited about the Kentifrica Project and the potential for empowerment and the creative leadership that it brings. I have also been working closely with my host, Dr. Adepeju Layiwola—an artist, scholar, activist, and professor at the University of Lagos. I am learning so much about the effects of colonialism on Nigerian history and culture, specifically in relationship to Benin and royal court art that was taken from the royal palace in 1897 by the British. The clash between cultural ideas concerning what is considered art, and what has ritual and ancestral importance in relationship to power, display, and economic gain is astounding and informing my work immensely. I am also making connections between how I was raised in Kentucky and the foods in the American South that are influenced by the food I am eating here. The connections are so rich! Louisville is in Lagos, and vice versa.
The Kentifrica Project collapses my interests in social sculpture, museum studies, anthropology, and the problematics of ethnography into one. Kentifrica started out as a solely autoethnographic project, in which I used my personal narrative as a point of departure to talk about fissures of identity. At first it was simply a collage of Kentucky and parts of West Africa, but after digging deeper I realized that the project extended beyond this collage because these geographies are complex. I created the project as an opportunity to embrace the idea of what I do not know about my ancestral origins instead of being consumed by a story of trauma and loss. I began to invite people to give their own interpretations about Kentifrica through panel discussions and collaborations to re-create artifacts or to prepare Kentifrican food. Through these invitations Kentifrica began to morph into both a physical and theoretical place in which a living archive was developing.
The museum component of the Kentifrican Museum of Culture then came about when I was invited to participate in Project Row Houses’ “Round 36” exhibition in 2012 in Houston. During the two-week installation I had the idea that the museum should be diasporic. I traveled to various locations and communities, so instead of people having to travel far—to a space in which they may feel alienated—the museum came to them.
As a visiting artist for my solo show at the University of New Hampshire Museum of Art this fall, I had the opportunity to go to Salem, Massachusetts, and take the tour of all the sites that played pivotal roles in the witch trials there. It was a powerful confirmation for the research I have been doing, especially a discussion I had with the guide about new concrete information that Tituba was of South American Arawak descent. My “Tituba” series, like much of my work, is about how the body of the other is used as scapegoat onto which fears and imaginative exotic fantasies are projected.
My work dwells within the unknown instead of being limited by it. The postcard images in the “Uninvited” series are historical documents that were supposed to represent some type of captured truth about the subjects, even though they were staged. When the viewer sees white paint within this series, it is Wite-Out Correction Fluid, which one uses to conceal mistakes, erase, or amend. I use it as a tool to renegotiate the expressions of colonial power that the postcards represent.
The term the “historical present” to me signifies the residue of history and how we are all chained to each other through the past and present. This idea came to me in 2012 when I re-created The Double Noose: Nowannago for the Kentifrica Project. The Double Noose hangs horizontally, and the loops look like an infinity symbol, suggesting that until we face the residue of history and honestly question its role within our lives, this inheritance will continue on forever. Historically, several of us are literally masters and slaves within the same body, so navigating the historical present can be an ongoing lifelong performance and practice of renegotiating the terms of history.