Ashanté Kindle paints Black hair as a symbol of joy, resilience and empowerment. Through her bold and expressive artworks, Kindle celebrates the beauty of Black hair which is often looked down upon by conventional Western beauty standards. Her intricate paintings, inspired by her own experiences and cultural heritage, serve as a testament to the strength and resilience of Black women through how they have persevered in caring for their hair despite the racial discrimination they have faced for wearing their natural hair, reflecting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of Reduced Inequality and Gender Equality.
Born and raised in Clarksville, Tennessee, Kindle's artistic journey is deeply rooted in her matriarchal sense of community, fostered by her regular visits to hair salons and barbershops in her hometown which were often commanded by Black women who were seen as community leaders.
The Black women of these salons were able to not only care for other Black women’s hair but also served as crucial support systems, through the talks that they shared while getting their hair done. It is this intimate connection to the rituals of hair care that serves as a direct inspiration for Kindle's exploration of Blackness through portraits and interpretations of Black hair. Her artworks invite viewers to celebrate the rich diversity of Black hair textures and styles.
In Kindle's first solo exhibition at The Red Arrow Gallery in Nashville, Tennessee, titled Gesturing Joy, viewers are greeted by a stunning display of paintings that capture the essence of Black hair in all its glory. At the entrance, the largest piece in the show, Infinitely Flowing in the Truth of My Existence, mesmerizes viewers with its swirling black patterns, reminiscent of intricate braids. Kindle's manipulation of acrylic paint, using found objects and hair tools typically used for Black hair, creates unique textures and adds depth and dimension to her artworks. They transform the canvas into a celebration of Black hair that physically resembles how Black hair is styled.
One of the most striking aspects of Kindle's work is her use of colour, particularly in her all-black series, aptly titled Sounds of Blackness. Through a series of matte and glossy black panels, Kindle explores the nuances of Blackness, conveying a sense of individuality and identity through original and nostalgic lenses of femininity that recall different Black hairstyles and hair types. Each painting in the series tells a story, evoking faded memories of bad hairstyling and even new hopes for good hair. A way of celebrating the resilience and strength of Black women who also face many ups and downs in their lives, all while facing a patriarchal society and racism.
Moreover, Kindle's paintings serve as a form of recovery and remembrance. They reclaim the beauty of Black hair from centuries of negative perceptions and colonial influence, something that in the past has forced Black women to painfully straighten and style their hair to avoid racist attacks. In a world where standards of beauty are often dictated by Eurocentric ideals, Kindle's artworks challenge the status quo, inviting viewers to embrace and celebrate the natural beauty of Black hair. In her piece, Face Towards The Sky, Kindle has even gone so far as to portray black hair that has been rainbow colour dyed, further encouraging Black women to freely style and embrace their hair, however they would like to without outside influence.