Duke Arts Festival frames sustainability topics
Vara Prasad Chebrolu paused to examine the black and white photos on exhibit in the Duke Bryan Center. Words in black ink filled the hands, outstretched arms and chests of the people caught by the lens.
Clean water, healthy food, decent people, was written on skin.
Chebrolu, who was visiting his son during Family Weekend, had stopped to examine the student display of the Duke Arts Festival. This year, the art revolved around sustainability, and the paintings ranged from dripping butterflies to a sketch on a cardboard box of a man with headphones and a bird, titled, “This is why I am behind in my Econ class.”
The black and white photographs made Chebrolu hesitate. The inking looked permanent on the models’ skin, and some of them were nearly half nude. He was at first surprised that this was on display on campus.
The photos were taken by students in a Duke photography class. “The body, our only home here in the universe and the carrier of its history, is used as a canvas to reveal a message, an affirmation of our responsibility to call for urgent change,” read the project description.
“This is a good, real showing of their commitment to the different problems of the world,” said Chebrolu, who was visiting from Columbus, Ga.
Freshmen to seniors, neuroscience to economics majors, contributed their artwork. Across from the exhibit, Duke’s initial was formed with aligned Dr. Pepper, Diet Coke and Mountain Dew cans.
The student art in the Bryan Center will be up until Nov. 3, the last day of the festival. Also on exhibit is “the Very Loud Chamber Orchestra of Endangered Species,” a collaborative art-science project that explores the impact of environmental degradation on animals. Local environmental artist Bryant Holsenbeck also was in the student union working on an interactive piece, “Falling Water: Plastic Sea.”
Holsenbeck and her long-time friend, Elizabeth Amend, circled tables topped with empty water bottles cut into spirals. They zip-tied the strands together and hung them from the upper level, creating cascading, shimmering swirls.
“It’s all the plastic that’s in the ocean that’s not biodegradable,” Holsenbeck said of her art. “… Our drinking water here is fine. Why are we using plastic bottles?”
She spent the entirety of 2010 not using disposable plastic, a journey she documented in her blog, “The Last Straw.” No lids on soda cups. No take-out boxes. No shampoo bottles. She did everything the alternative way. (Dealing with sodas without lids and, ultimately, soda messes, environmentally friendly take-out venues, shampoo in bar form.) She ended up missing crackers, which are always wrapped in a plastic sleeve, and tried making homemade ones.
“The world is about fast things,” she said, “and I didn’t necessarily change my fast life.”
She was invited by Duke to participate in the Arts Festival this year. She said she has met many students who have helped her with her projects, and she sometimes gets her bottles from Duke’s recycling program.
“I think this is the place to be because these students are going to make the policy,” she said.
Visit www.arts.duke.edu/festival to read more about the exhibits and find the festival schedule.