It is with a great and deep sadness we announce the passing of Kinyozi Yvette Smalls (LTA ’08), folk artist and filmmaker, who passed away in her West Philadelphia home Monday April 16, 2012. She was 53.
Born and raised in West Philadelphia, Kinyozi’s primary artistic practice was hair sculpting, a cultural-communal craft in the African-American community, and an aesthetic enterprise with a host of emotional and psychological issues. Hers was a masterful hybrid of techniques – braiding, cornrowing, and twisting. Throughout her practice she used the form to examine and explore issues of identity, upholding and reinforcing an African standard of beauty that helped to contribute to a larger sense of self-worth.
Kinyozi often worked out of her home, transforming it into an informal meeting place, learning hub, and healing space. She taught her hair craft and technique in community arts programs, libraries, museums, and grade schools. In 1998 she produced the award-winning Hair Stories, which was one of the first personal documentary films to discuss Black women and their hair.
Kinyozi was the regional director of the National Braider's Guild; served, as a hair historian/cultural consultant for various television programs; was one of the founding members of the Kuumba Sisters and the Philadelphia Locks Conference; and was a featured artist and board member of the Philadelphia Folklore Project.
Her son, Amiri Nichols, and a beloved circle of family, friends, mentees, and colleagues will miss her profoundly. A memorial is planned for June.
(Photo by Jim Wasserman)