SPEAKING: Kenyatta Bosman

with Mary Clore

Kenyatta Bosman is a photographer and multimedia artist from Louisville, Kentucky. They currently have work on view in the online exhibition In Absentia and the virtual exhibition Black Before I Was Born. Bosman is a student at Kentucky College of Art and Design and draws inspiration from Black and queer cinema and the queer Black experience. Following the protests in Louisville surrounding the murder of Breonna Taylor, I spoke with Bosman about the relationship between art and activism.

MC: I first became familiar with your work in the recent show at Quappi Projects, I Do Not Ask Any More Delight, which included your photograph NYFW (2018). Tell me a little bit about your practice.

KB: I've been working very hard for the past seven years on my photography, which earned me a full ride to KyCAD. It has been my dream to go to art school. Growing up, I knew regular school was not for me. Now I'm in this space that I've always wanted to be in with like-minded beings and actually getting criticism, learning from each other, and taking from each other. It's been the best part of this experience because I'm getting different perspectives from different people.

MC: What are some of your artistic influences?

KB: I'm a big art history nerd—teacher’s pet, asking a lot of questions. Taking art history for the first time, I learned a lot about my work. I found a lot of my influences in some art that I've never even really seen before. When I look back at the photo that you saw at Quappi—NYFW (2018)—there is a Christian vibe with a halo from the beanie. Giotto, Masaccio, Jan van Eyck, Leonardo de Vinci and Michelangelo are some of my favorite artists.

MC: You can definitely see those art historical references in your animated gif, Hood Mona Lisa. What has your experience been like as an artist exhibiting work in Louisville?

KB: I'm born and raised in Louisville. Actually, before NuLu became NuLu, I used to live in the Clarksdale Projects. I had a little moment when John [Brooks] sent me a form to fill out for the sale of my piece at Quappi. I used to live in the neighborhood and it's not what it used to be; since then they’ve been doing a lot of gentrification. Being able to show my art in the area that I grew up in and expose my art to the public has really done a lot for me. I was surprised to see my piece reviewed in Ruckus.

MC: Tell me about your work in the show Black Before I Was Born at Roots 101 African-American Museum.

KB: It’s a meditation on identity. I wanted to express my queer Blackness in America, so I picked the model, Jalyn Peavy, and an awesome makeup artist, Isidro Valencia. I did the whole set design and picked out the outfits. We shot all the work in one day, on January 15. I was working on multiple projects, my schoolwork, and juggling my personal work. In the photos I was able to express some of my interactions with police. I did a triptych of Jalyn masking and unmasking themself. You can't see the person's eyes—you can only see their nails and their mouth just slightly. I took the queerness away just a little bit, focusing more on Blackness. Then I wanted to show my Black queerness. I'm like, alright, I want you to put on this latex dress with this coat and these gloves and I want your face painted in a Picasso kind of way. I named that photo The Last Judgement.

MC: Recently you’ve live-streamed some of the protests taking place in response to the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd for Queer Kentucky.

KB: I made it my goal to be live the whole time that I was there to show people what's really going on, because between Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, the news, all of the media, they are able to manipulate a lot of things. You have people working on being allies, but a lot of them haven't been out to experience the actual protests. I wanted to show what it’s like and why we're angry. We are walking through the streets and stopping traffic just so you can see we're out here, we're going to be out here. We're going to be loud—no justice, no peace. If you think you're going to go on about your day and not even acknowledge what's going on, you thought wrong. We're posting it all over our social media. For the people who aren't talking about it, how are you not talking about it? I can open my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all I'm seeing is protests, Black Lives Matter, Black Trans Lives Matter.

While I have been in the process, I’ve experienced a roller coaster of emotions. There are moments where I'm super happy to be here. I'm rolling with the punches. The protests started, and then June hits and it's Pride Month. I see a lot of queer White folks posting Pride this, Pride that, but not saying anything about Black trans lives or even acknowledging them when the very first Pride was a riot started by a Black trans woman. It feels good to see a flag with a black and brown stripe and that bright pink and blue. Why did it take so long to get there when this is where it started? With the queer community, I've never felt like I was a part of it. I'm making my way in now because I'm speaking up.

I want to be as unfiltered as possible, because I always come into spaces where I have to filter myself and present myself in a certain way. Not everyone has to do that. You don't always have to walk into a room and change your whole vocabulary and become a completely different person. Walking into these spaces, that's what I have to do. I have to use a code in order for me to be seen as not just a Black person. Even then, I'm going to be seen as a Black artist and not just an artist. That's the very first thing that's thrown out there. Can I just be an artist? Just like you?

MC: I think a lot of, if not all White artists have that privilege of not having their race be the foremost part of their identity, and not having their work automatically interpreted through that lens.

KB: Yeah, you know when Kevin [Warth] emailed me asking if I wanted to be interviewed, I inquired what made him pick me to come on. He said, “Because you've been active politically,” and I'm like, when was I ever political? I just tell people to go out and vote, but not who to vote for. That's not me. I don't really believe in politics.

MC: I often find that people expect art and activism to work in the same way, or expect artists to take on the role of activist. And we’ve seen some remarkable art come out of the protests here in Louisville, like the banner that was dropped off the Second Street Bridge. Do you see art and activism as related?

KB: Showing art can bring hope, you know? A lot of the art that we're doing right now is really just expressing the Black experience in America. When the protest and everything started, Spencer [Jenkins] asked if I would take over Queer Kentucky’s social media to show the protest and everything. My job right now is to plant seeds—someone else will water it, you meet another person, they’ll put sunlight on it, and the next person will put a little bit of love on it. And the hope is that the seed will grow into this huge, beautiful flower. I'm not making it my job to educate folks, but there are a lot of things that I've experienced that I want to put out there, to let people know this does go on. We're all uncomfortable with everything that's happening with COVID and the protests shaking everyone up. But my perspective is that it’s all for the best. It's a collective transition.

I want everybody to know that everything is not going to change within a month or overnight. It's going to be a very long process. But if everyone is going out, doing the work, coming home and doing the work, spreading the word and getting other people to do the work, then we all will eventually be comfortable. Until then we have to sit in all of this uncomfortableness and just have hope for the best.

Art is going to be the way that we're going to get things to change. I keep seeing more art shared online. Why do we have to be a hashtag? Why do we have to trend? We have to say their names and we have to continuously have their hashtags trending because we're not going to let it go away. We are having protesters come up missing. Protestors are dying. That is honestly the most painful thing to wake up to the next morning after a protest. Why do we have to keep dying for you to even do something?

MC: In what ways do you feel supported as an artist, and what are some areas where our city and community can do better?

KB: My throat chakra has been activated. I've been able to openly express myself without the filter. I feel like my voice has been amplified for the best and I'm going to use it for what it's worth. What community members and art galleries can do is support more Black businesses and Black artists. Take those steps to hire more Black people and people of color, and let them obtain space. When you don't have any people of color or Black people on your board, if you don't have a diverse group of people that you hang around with, you're consistently absorbing the same things. Being in the art world, I'm surrounded by like-minded people, but we're very diverse. We have a lot of different perspectives. In photography, I don’t want to look at something from only one perspective. I'm going to look at it this way, I'm going to turn it over, flip it around, maybe get on the ground and look up at it. Fill those spaces with people who can provide a different view.



Mary Clore
Development & Outreach Editor

Guilty Until Proven Innocent (2020), digital photograph. Courtesy of the artist

NYFW (2018), digital photograph. Courtesy of Quappi Projects

Hood Mona Lisa (2020), animated gif. Courtesy of the artist

The Last Judgement (2020), digital photograph. Courtesy of the artist

Kenyatta Bosman.

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Louisville, KY