The Friday of spring break, downtown Durham was bustling with artists and people who came to see performances and artwork.
The flurry of artistic activity is part of the Bull City's Third Friday events. On the third Friday of each month, various art venues stay open late and host free receptions, while other artists set up shop on the street.
Near the Letters Bookshop, Luke Dingfelder played his guitar as passersby recorded his performance on their phones. Recently transitioning from a band member to a solo artist, Dingfelder performs in several locations throughout Durham, including Ninth Street and the Golden Belt building in front of the Durham Arts Council. The genres of music that he plays include classic guitar covers and alternative music, appealing to diverse audiences with different tastes.
“When I play music, I am mainly targeting a carefree audience, by creating a relaxed atmosphere that invites everyone to gather around and listen,” Dingfelder wrote in an email.
Dingfelder has also been writing music for 12 years, getting inspirations from memorable emotional or physical experiences. Although he composes and plays a variety of music on his guitar, he connects the most with the blues, which he became attracted to while working at a restaurant in Durham.
“I would be working in the kitchen, and the owner would call me to the stage to play guitar for the blues jam they had every week,” Dingfelder wrote. “I fell in love with the blues, because I really got to express myself while playing those songs.”
Down the Main Street in Exotique Boutique and Art Gallery, Beth P. Leigh showcased paintings that reflect her experiences as an African American woman who grew up in the South. Among the displayed works were those from the Crown Collection, which she started creating last month to highlight the African diaspora across the world through a word that has double meanings.
“Crown, in black communities, means your head, but also your crown of royalty,” Leigh said. “We look for other people to apply a crown for us, and I wanted my pieces to be able to show that is not always necessary. You can add your own crown at any time.”
Her artwork focuses on struggles of African American women and the necessity to draw more attention to their narratives. One painting in the gallery showed a gilded face of Malcolm X, behind which were quotations revealing the oppression of black women.
“There is the quote that the most disrespected person in America is a black woman. The most unprotected person in America is a black woman. The most neglected person in America is a black woman,” Leigh said. “No matter how you are looking at the piece, you are going to see those words, but they are still not going to come together for you, because what you are first going to see is Malcolm. You are going to see the man before you see the woman."
Leigh chose the Exotique gallery to display her paintings with work by other African American artists because she wanted her work to become a powerful storytelling medium. Hakim Ziyad-Bey, a curator of the gallery, also hoped that the artists’ works would draw more attention.
“When people come in, I want them to have the sense of belonging, hope, knowledge, and understanding of what is happening,” Ziyad-Bey said. “I want them to see the possibilities of where we need to be as people.”
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Across the street in the Pleiades Arts gallery, Yuko Nogami Taylor, an oil painter who immigrated from Japan to America in the 1990s, presented her works the African American experience. The artist integrated her own experiences of living in the South. and encountering African American history and narratives.
“I needed to explore my world, and not contained in this little island. But I did not know what American South was like, so I was a little surprised,” Taylor said. “But because of that, my life became so interesting, and there was so much to earn and learn.”
Taylor is interested in people who did groundwork to build the United States but who did not get recognized. Settling down in the South, she was particularly impressed that African Americans “live so strongly” despite remaining nameless in the history.
“I adored that strength and wanted it to be mine,” Taylor said.
Meanwhile, works by artists like Mark Abercrombie, who displayed his abstract paintings, left gallery visitors with more rooms for interpretation. Rarely using a paint brush, he creates a lot of his works by throwing paint to a canvas and derives his inspiration from a work by Jackson Pollock that he saw at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Back then, he was not interested in visual art — before becoming an artist, Abercrombie was a drummer.
“As a drummer, you have to depend on other musicians to be able to do anything. No one is going to listen to a drummer solo for an hour,” Abercrombie said. “When I found painting, it was like I could be independent and hold the power. But I will say that drumming has really influenced my style with throwing paint. I learned the technique from using drumsticks.”
He wants viewers to emotionally connect to them based on different interpretations.
“It is fun to ask people what they think about it, because some people see things that I never intended,” he said. “But I think that if you see it, then it’s kind of cool to hear about that.”
And around the works of Abercrombie, Taylor and Leigh, and accompanied by the Dingfelder's music, other artists continued to share their work with visitors to Third Friday.
The next Third Friday is April 19 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.