Kenyatta Hinkle teaches students to ‘decolonize’ their art

  • Kenyatta Hinkle (center) chats with Instructor of Visual Arts Megan Hildebrandt (right) while the students work.

  • A student paints a tiger using a handmade brush.

  • Students search for materials in the woods.

  • HInkle takes a photo of a student's work.

  • A student crafts a brush out of pine needles.

“Let’s decolonize our brushes,” urged artist Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle to a class of Interlochen Arts Academy students.

Hinkle, a nationally acclaimed, Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary artist, arrived on campus ahead of her lecture and exhibition opening to spend time working with visual artists.

Hinkle’s own work is often crafted from brushes that she makes herself from found objects collected near her workspace.

“There’s a strange rigidity about what arts should look like and what tools you should use,” she said. “We expect to create the original ideas inside of us with standard tools.”

With this pep talk, Hinkle sent the class outside on a trek through the woods surrounding the Dow Center for Visual Arts. Each student spent the next 15 minutes collecting an assortment of natural items to transform into their own handmade brushes.

Hinkle added a parting reminder to the class to the objects that they collect with reverence. “Only take what you need, and ask for permission before you take something,” she said. “Sometimes, I offer something for what I take by giving the plant water.”

Hinkle’s own handmade brushes are a part of her ongoing journey to challenge the long-held, predominantly European conventions of art, such as white gallery walls and standard canvas sizes. Hinkle’s works touch on a wide range of issues. In particular, she received national recognition for her works concerning race, gender, colonialism, surveillance of the Black body, and anti-trafficking awareness.

“I’ve always wanted to push the envelope,” Hinkle told the students. “I don’t like people telling me what I can and can’t do. Especially history.”

Back inside the Dow gallery, Hinkle’s brush workshop offered students a chance to break the convention of standard, store-bought brushes. As the students arranged a diverse collection of materials—twigs, leaves, pine needles, stones, and even a stray hydrangea—Hinkle set out twine and rubber bands. Hinkle suggested a few ways to create brush handles, and encouraged the students to take their time and enjoy the process. “The wrapping is so important because you’re putting your own energy into the brush,” she said.

Once the brush-making was complete, Hinkle handed out large sheets of paper and trays of ink so the students could test their creations. “This is your time to let loose,” Hinkle said. “When do we get to do that?”

Some students tested the limits of their new tools with random strokes, while others began painting animal and human figures. Hinkle walked among the students, taking photos and videos, offering encouragement, giving advice, and testing the students’ creations. Several times Hinkle expressed her surprise.

“I’ve taught this workshop several times, and I always learn something new,” she said.

In addition to her master class, Hinkle installed an exhibition, “The Seeker” in the Dow gallery. “The Seeker” examines themes of race, gender, belonging, and human trafficking, and features drawings and performance videos from Hinkle’s “Evanesced” and “Kentifrica” projects. The exhibition will remain open through Dec. 14.