The #HomegirlCypher: Aminah Dantzler, The Painter Behind All Things Black Beauty
Ahhh Curlfest, the natural beauty festival held in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park was a success for the fifth year in a row! The summer event dedicated to celebrating natural hair and women empowerment brought thousands together from across the world.
Started by the Curly Girl Collective, an event marketing group, their goal was for women and men to celebrate their hair in all its curly, coily, or kinky glory. Mission accomplished right? Yes indeed!
The possibility of rain for the Saturday, July 21 extravaganza did not keep people from showing up and showing out okkkk *snaps finger*. The sun radiated beautifully and highlighted all the melanin magic. Your eyes couldn’t help but gaze from one person to another and admire the beautiful curls, afros, and twist-outs. Apart from celebrating curly tresses, there were games, giveaways, live demos, and music from the dopest DJs. Positive vibes only was the motto as everyone showed love to one another.
Amongst the crowd was a gem: artist Aminah Dantzler.
On full display were her gorgeous and life-like paintings of Black women. As people passed, they stopped in amazement and admiration. A crowd formed around her and one naturalista said, “Oh my gosh, this is beautiful.” Humbled and happy to talk about her art, Aminah approached the crowd and accepted compliments and love. Her art was so outstanding that we had to learn more about the woman behind the canvas. We interviewed this budding artist and had a candid conversation about her work, from why she paints Black beauty to how she’s challenging the stereotypes about Black women through her art and more. Ladies and gents, enjoy this in-depth Q&A with Ms. Aminah Dantzler.
Q: How was Curlfest? Was it your first time attending?
AD: Sis! Let me tell you!!! It was breathtaking. Yes, it was my first time attending and I had received the invitation to live paint only days before. I was shocked and nervous. I ran out of 250 business cards and was just ecstatic. There were Curlfest volunteers that helped me sell paintings, share contact information and support me overall. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
Q: You received so much love! How did that feel?
AD: It’s always reassuring and a blessing to see the fruits of your labor really blossom right in front you in such a positive way. I love and am always overwhelmed to meet others who love my work and are so happy to experience the images I paint. My favorite thing to hear is “she looks like me!”
That’s why I do what I do, so someone else can see themselves in art. That was my Curlfest experience and it was magical seeing so many women of color in one place and happy, even with the wind and rain later on in the day.
Q: When did you start painting and what did you paint?
AD: I started painting when I was 20 years old, during the Spring semester of my junior year of college. That was just over two years ago and it’s incredible to think about. I was very depressed and beginning to question my educational goals, experiencing financial burdens, and thinking about my purpose in life.
The idea of painting actually came to me through some drawing and sketching I had done. I was in need for some emotional release and I used drawing as therapy. I drew a nice sketch of a woman’s silhouette and thought to myself that maybe this was a hobby I could do more often. After that, I painted a portrait as a gift for a friend and from there I knew painting was what I wanted to do. I was going to paint people that looked like me and create what felt right for me. My first three or four paintings were all self-portraits that embodied my literal emotions. If I was angry, I’d paint a woman with her hair on fire.
It was fun and refreshing, but what I was really doing was creating a reflection for myself to see. I could look at my paintings and feel better about my current predicament and know that it wasn’t going to last forever. The paintings were just a snapshot, a moment, but not my future.
Q: Where did you grow up? Did it influence your art in any way?
AD: Growing up in South Queens, I did not have many artistic role models. Off the top of my head, I can’t easily think of other Black women in my life who were tangible and accessible mentors or role models. Not singers and actresses, but everyday woman who made a valuable difference in my development. Being older, I now know that my community is filled with so many hidden gems. Many people leave the area to go to Brooklyn, Manhattan, other states, and even international, but many times don’t share their creativeness where it’s really needed.
I realize that part of my purpose as a painter is to showcases the “now”, to inspire the future. I need to share with people the greatness that I see and experience first-hand. That means painting portraits of my friends doing great work in their communities and respective fields. I know so many wonderful singers, musicians, photographers, actors, and educators that are successful and right in front of me. I believe art is meant to be collaborative and is inter-related. It’s the people right next to me in Queens and New York who influence me every day to be better and share our stories, we just need more sharing from more of us in order to attain greatness.
Q: Why was it important for you to paint Black men and women?
AD: The majority of my work centers around Black women and I am slowly starting to paint Black men more often. I paint Black women because self-awareness and self-love is at the top of my personal priorities. As a painter and Black woman, who mostly paints portraits, my goal is to promote positive images of beauty, intelligence, and grace that Black women have in abundance.
As a whole, Black women are often underrepresented and misrepresented in all facets of society. It is important for me to put us EVERYWHERE. I want my work in all sorts of venues, galleries, and art spaces because the need for Black women and Black men to been seen as beautiful and unique is and always will be relevant.
Q: On average, how long does it take you to paint a piece?
AD: One to two days, in total. However, depending on my schedule and how I’m feeling about the painting, I might paint in intervals of a few hours at a time. Every piece is different and sometimes I might paint straight through and finish a full 30” x 40” painting in exactly one day.
Q: Describe the atmosphere when you paint? Do you need music playing or silence?
AD: My goal for my near future is to have a studio of my own, but currently I paint at home. I usually paint from the hours of 12am to 6am, when everyone is sleeping.
As far as music goes, I’m obsessed with everything sound. I am a serious music lover; all genres, all decades, everything! I put my headphones on, blast the sound, and get to work. One random thing that I can’t stand is hearing the brush stroke on the canvas, so I have to tune that out. A hobby of mine is searching for new music on a daily. I also go to jam sessions and different live music events as often as I can. My favorite bands/jam session is @TheLessonNYC .
Q: What are your favorite hip-hop songs or albums?
AD: My favorite are Silk Canvas by VanJess, Commitment EP by Sita, and Telefone by NoName.
Q: Who inspires you?
AD: No one person inspires me. I receive inspiration from experiences, encounters, and emotions. My nonstop inspiration is knowing that I can and do uplift the youth and other young adults, like myself. I am able to be a voice for young woman of color who are misunderstood and mislabeled. I want to be someone who can share experiences and teach. By painting portraits of women who are poised, complex, and uniquely beautiful I have the ability to shift the worlds perception of Blackness and the beauty in it.
Q: What are your ultimate goals?
AD: My goal is to bring my artwork and women of color directly into all types of art spaces and social gatherings. And along the way expose people to new and encouraging images of Black women.
hope to be a Black woman who can help to inclusively represent other Black women, in all their forms. To be someone for other women and children to see as a friend, peer, and mentor. I would like to grow into a role model for young children and budding artist, the person we all need growing up to help encourage us. I know one day I will teach and host youth outreach programs.
Q: What is the overall message of your art? What do you want to convey?
AD: To a large extent, even in this moment of so much Black excellence, society tells us that we are aggressive, rude, “too loud”, sex objects, not submissive enough, only beautiful to an extent, and not deserving of what our intelligence/accomplishments are worth.
I paint and create art to show that we are everything except those labels. Black women are spunky yet fragile, fierce, beautiful in all our forms, and worthy of respect. I want to push the message that Black people are more amazing, creative, and beautiful than the labels other people place on us. I will continue doing this by painting portraits that make others stop in their tracks to look at and see the beauty that is Black people.
Q: Lastly, is there anything you would like to add about your work or yourself?
AD: I’d like to thank you (Shantal) and other people like you for giving creatives a platform to speak through and share their work. Being a dedicated artist and entrepreneur is difficult but it’s the daily little things and kindness given to others that makes everything worth it and always pays off. I want to shout out all the amazing artists everywhere who work hard to inspire others, you are amazing!
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