By Mariel Strouse, Public Affairs Intern, Duke ’08 (second from left in image)
As recent Duke graduates hanging around Durham for the summer, with little to do other than lounge poolside or catch up on television, my friends were noticeably excited when I suggested attending the Nasher Museum’s First Thursday event last night. The five of us browsed the Barkley Hendricks: Birth of the Cool exhibition together, marveling at the artist’s ability to render different textures and laughing at the works’ playful, witty titles.
Trevor Schoonmaker, curator of contemporary art here at the Nasher, gave an informal talk about Hendricks’s work “Fela (Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen).” He explained the background of the painting’s subject, the outrageous inventor of Afrobeat music and Nigerian human rights activist, Fela Kuti. We were all amused by Trevor’s description of Fela as a mixture of Bob Marley, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Brown.
Coincidentally, the artist and his wife Susan were in town this week, and Barkley said a few words about the creative process. Barkley is at once casual and impressive, softspoken but definitely confident. With a camera perpetually slung over his shoulder, ready to capture inspiration at a moment’s notice, he told his audience about his encounters with Fela at a cultural convention in Nigeria in 1977. The painting is based on photographs he took of the musician at that time.
It’s rare to hear artists speak directly to their audience about the techniques, styles and symbolism they incorporated into a piece. The evening was relaxed and fun, and we look forward to more nights out at the Nasher