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The top 5 arts events and performances to look out for this semester on campus

<p>Nina Chanel Abney's "Royal Flush" exhibit at the Nasher Museum of Art is one of the many art events coming to Duke this semester.&nbsp;</p>

Nina Chanel Abney's "Royal Flush" exhibit at the Nasher Museum of Art is one of the many art events coming to Duke this semester. 

Nina Chanel Abney: Royal Flush (Feb. 16-July 16)

Nina Chanel Abney, a 34-year-old artist from Chicago, is used to making people uncomfortable with her art. For her MFA thesis show, titled “Class of 2007,” Abney depicted her white classmates as black inmates in a prison, opting to illustrate herself as their white, gun-toting prison guard. Consequently, Abney distinguished herself as an African-American artist who masterfully creates dense commentaries on race, incarceration and inequality through her art.

An advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, Abney came to age in an era when police brutality and racism disseminated constantly across new cycles and smartphone screens. Abney channels this barrage of information with bustling, irreverent pieces, the cluttered and collaged depictions of social inequities creating a sense of information overload. The bright and colorful artwork has been described by Abney as “easy to swallow, hard to digest,” which encapsulates her contradictory style and subject material.

Although Abney’s work may be difficult to digest due to its forceful depictions of violence perpetrated against black bodies, in the wake of the deaths of innumerable black Americans at the hands of law enforcement, it's a harrowing reminder that racial injustice demands our full and immediate attention.

Nina Chanel Abney’s “Royal Flush” will be on display at the Nasher Museum of Art from Feb. 16 to July 16. The exhibition is a 10-year survey of approximately 30 of the artist’s paintings, watercolors and collages.

Malpaso Dance Company + Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble (Feb. 24 and Feb. 25)

For most Americans, the rich culture of Cuba has been largely inaccessible due to the terse relationship shared between the two nations. However, as such tensions begin to soften in light of recent attempts at fraternity, Americans are finding themselves at the receiving end of Cuban art, music and dance.

One group attempting to spread their artistic talents to the United States is the Malpaso Dance Company, based in Havana and well-versed in Cuban contemporary dance. The company was founded in 2012 by Osnel Delgado, whose affinity for languid body movements and modern interpretive dance creates a striking and dynamic performance. Malpaso’s routines consist of anywhere from 2 to 10 dancers and can be up to 40 minutes long, demonstrating both the troupe’s versatility and stamina.

Essential to Malpaso’s success is their collaboration with the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble, a two-time Grammy award winning band ensemble led by Arturo O’Farrill. The latest joint effort between the Malpaso Dance Company and the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble is titled “Dreaming of Lions,” an evocation of Ernest Hemingway’s short novel “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Using ballet and Cuban dance to illustrate the old man’s struggle to secure the greatest catch of his life, the performance highlights the novel’s difficult themes of pride and defeat in the unforgiving sea. This also marks the U.S. premiere of “Dreaming of Lions,” a feat given the uncertain future of American-Cuban relations.

The Malpaso Dance Company + Arturo O’Farrill & The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble will be performing “Dreaming of Lions” Feb. 24 & Feb. 25 at the Reynolds Industries Theater.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (April 6-9)

The thought of nearly 14,000 people pouring into downtown Durham for a four-day stretch is overwhelming to most residents of the area. But for a film festival with an attendance that barely surpassed a few hundred patrons in its first fledgling years, the sizeable turnout is nothing short of incredible.

Established in 1998 by filmmaker Nancy Buirski, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival is an international event borne out of Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies. Thanks to support from the likes of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, Full Frame has become the premier documentary film festival in the United States. With past guests such as Michael Moore, Martin Scorsese, Ken Burns and Danny DeVito, it’s no wonder as to why so many filmmakers and film enthusiasts convene in Durham to celebrate documentary filmmaking each year.

Full Frame holds screenings of over 100 films as well as discussions and panels with the filmmakers over the four-day festival. Due to its ties and proximity to Duke, Full Frame provides a unique space that allows students, artists and the public to mingle and share in their mutual love for films and filmmaking–all while granting exposure to documentaries that might have otherwise flown under the radar.

The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival will take place at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham and the surrounding city blocks. The festival begins April 6 and ends April 9.

Anoushka Shankar (April 7)

She’s often thought of as the daughter of Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar and the half-sister of singer Norah Jones, but Anoushka Shankar’s musical career stands out on its own. Trained to play the sitar by her father Ravi at the ripe age of seven, Shankar released her first album at age 17. It was a love letter to classical Indian music and effectively launched her solo career, leading to Shankar’s nomination for a Grammy award in 2003.

After three albums of classical music, though, Shankar grew restless. She pivoted to contemporary music, harnessing her traditional musical upbringing to produce records that heavily featured pop and electronica beats. These efforts were also met with commercial success, leading to further collaborations with her sister, Norah, and artists such as Sting and Lenny Kravitz.

Following the death of her father in 2012, Shankar decided to revisit her classical Indian roots in an homage to his legacy. Her album “Home,” released in 2015, is powerful proof of her classical musical abilities, ensnaring her intimate and formative relationship with her father and demonstrating her own, distinctive talents.

Anoushka Shankar will be performing “Home: A Tribute to Ravi Shankar” April 7 at Page Auditorium.

Cécile McLorin Salvant (April 15)

For most, the idea of having a Grammy award by age 27 is surreal. For Cécile McLorin Salvant, it’s reality. Born in Miami, Florida to a Haitian father and a French mother, Salvant began studying classical piano at the age of five and singing in the Miami Choral Society at age eight.

Salvant credits her transition to jazz singing to Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, remembering a childhood spent listening to their songs frequently. Salvant’s sound is that of jazz, blues, and some bits here and there of folk and musical theatre–her soft crooning reminiscent of the soulful icons who influenced her.

Her first studio album was released in 2010 to acclaim, and shortly thereafter, Salvant won a recording contract with Mack Avenue Records through the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition. A testament to her already incredible contribution to the jazz world, her third album, “For One to Love,” won her the Grammy for Best Vocal Jazz Album.

Salvant’s Duke Performance concert last season was so entrancing that she is one of the rare artists to be invited back for a second season in a row–indicative of her powerful stage presence and astonishing vocal abilities. She will be joined by New Orleans pianist Sullivan Fortner, creating a must-see jazz performance.

Cécile McLorin Salvant will be performing April 15 with piano player Sullivan Fortner at Baldwin Auditorium.


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