The Benenson Awards in the Arts fund independent summer projects. The Benenson Awards in the Arts provide funds for fees, equipment, supplies, travel, production, and other educational expenses for arts-centered projects proposed by undergraduates. In the past, the Benenson Awards have supported projects such as: work with an NGO in an arts-based education program in Uganda; immersive and conservatory study in acting, opera, music, dance, and film; a dance/documentary audio ethnographic film installation at the American Dance Festival; the incorporation of technology and art with dance choreography; an interpretation of the Target icon into a multicolor landscape of circular shapes; a 10-15 minute film about the nation's interstate highway system completed with antiquated media. Applicants must be undergraduates in good standing in Trinity College or the Pratt School of Engineering; seniors may apply funds to projects planned for the one year period following graduation.
Approximately 20 awards are made each year; recent awards have ranged from $600-4500 with an average award size of $1800.
March 1, 2014 Extended to March 7, 2014
- Purpose: cover expenses of fees, travel, etc. for arts-centered projects
- Eligibility: Trinity or Pratt students, including graduating seniors
- Time Frame: Summer (or beyond)
- Funding: up to $4500
Ryan Gaylord, a Trinity Scholar, discusses his participation in the Duke Forward event in LA, his attention-getting Arabic rap video, and the trip to North Africa that followed, when he was able to meet with rap musicians and hear their stories of fighting for human rights.
One of the great things about a liberal arts education is the way it can catch a student by surprise and open up a whole new world—Arabic hip-hop, for instance. Ryan Gaylord had no concept of it when he came to Duke—not surprising, since he had no interest in hip-hop and no command of Arabic. A year and a half later, a dissident Moroccan rapper was citing Gaylord’s work with appreciation.
The stage was set by Gaylord’s decision to sign up for an Arabic class during his first semester at Duke. “To be honest,” he says, “I wasn’t that into it when I got started. I just needed a language and I'm part Syrian. I was trying to get more involved in that culture, I guess.” Later in the year, he was into it enough to sign up for DukeEngage Cairo, and that was “an absolutely life-changing experience.” Back at Duke, he declared a major in Asian & Middle East Studies, with a concentration in Arabic.
Music was one thing Gaylord did not have to start from scratch—he was one of the rare students able to test out of the first semester of Duke’s music theory sequence. He joined the a cappella group Speak of the Devil and soon became its primary arranger (he is now music director), and honed his skills as a producer, as well. But he’s also, in his own words, “kind of a music snob,” and couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for hip-hop.
It was thanks to a new course offered in Spring 2013 that Gaylord’s production skills and Arabic studies coalesced around hip-hop. When Azeddine Chergui developed the class, called Arabic Dialect Through Music, his main idea was to help students connect the language spoken in the classroom, Modern Standard Arabic, to the language they’d hear on the street in, say, Egypt or Lebanon. But Chergui had other ideas, too. One of them was that music would be a great way for students to engage the flood of cultural production that followed in the wake of Arab Spring, when hip-hop emerged as an especially potent form of protest.
The most conspicuous proof of the connection students could make to this music was a video posted on YouTube last April, featuring four Duke students—Mayyadda Major, Desmond Lee, Lawrence Nemeh, and Gaylord. The song they covered, "No to Dictatorship,” was a collaboration between four Sudanese musicians, created the previous summer. They declared that they were “from different tribes, backgrounds and geographic locations" but "united... as one mic and as one voice,” in pointed defiance of the Sudanese regime’s divisive rhetoric.
The Duke version presents a striking juxtaposition of language and image. Turn off the sound and what you see is four American college students making the characteristic gestures of American hip-hop. The setting is all-American, too, especially for viewers familiar with Duke. Lawrence Nemeh’s lively video plays on the sharp contrast between two iconic campus backdrops, the graffiti bridge and the Chapel.
It’s about the last place you’d expect to get an earful of Arabic, but turn on the sound and there it is—dense, emphatic Arabic, especially in the rapped verses. In the chorus, the voices come together in an infectious chant, which is both the point and the hook of the song, and by the third or fourth time it comes around, you’re likely to find that you, too, are singing in Arabic.
|La li dictatoria!||(No to dictatorship!)|
|La li hukuma siyadiya!||(No to all-powerful government!)|
|La li sulta abadiya!||(No to endless authority!)|
|Nahnu nureedu al Huriyya!||(We want freedom!)|
The ultimate mark of the video’s success is the reception it got from Arabic speakers in and around Sudan. The comment that set the tone early on is from the rapper who goes by the screen name Aymanmao—the one whose onomatopoetic exuberance launches the fourth verse of the original right over the language barrier. His comment—“Maximum Respect”—is simple but emphatic, and has been echoed many times. A few months later, Mista-D, the reggae-inflected singer behind the third verse, left his respects, as well. There is also an appreciative comment from NasJota, the American-based producer.
It was not part of Chergui's plan to have the students echo the music back to the Arabic world, much less for them to reach out and touch the musicians there. But thanks to the amazing, world-shrinking effect of social media, his students were able to close a loop. It's clear from their track that the musicians who created "No to Dictatorship" are astute listeners to American music, so it must have been satisfying for them to hear it returned from America in their own language.
One thing in particular that Chergui didn’t plan for—couldn't have counted on, in fact—is Gaylord. “I was blessed to have somebody like him in my class,” Chergui says, “because he is a musician himself, and a great music producer.” It’s important to note that, while the video was a direct outgrowth of the class, it was actually an extracurricular project that involved two students, Major and Nemeh, who weren’t enrolled in the class. So there was a second blessing to go along with the first—a group of talented students, creatively engaged with the language they're studying just for the satisfaction of it.
Chergui's first taste of Gaylord's production skill was an impressive vocal arrangement of “Hamdoulillah,” an Arabic version of the Leonard Cohen classic, "Hallelujah." A few weeks later, Gaylord teamed up with Lee to cover a much edgier piece. “Dogs of the State,” by the dissident Moroccan rapper known as El Haqed ("The Angry One"), is a scathing blast at police corruption that cost its creator a year in jail, in spite of strenuous protests from human rights campaigners.
Gaylord posted the cover to Soundcloud and tweeted it, using a twitter handle and hashtags created by the jailed artist’s supporters, who retweeted with enthusiasm. Maria Karim—a documentarian who was assisting El Haqed as producer and advocate, earning a spell in jail for herself in the process—tweeted back, "U made us all very happy." In a Skype conversation soon after, she told Gaylord and Lee that El Haqed was impressed and pleased by what they'd done with his song.
A few weeks later, Chergui played a YouTube video for the class. It was a press conference given by El Haqed, who had just been released. “He said he learned a lot of things in his prison experience,” Chergui says, “and one of them was the extent of the solidarity with him. And he thanked the Americans who sang his song, of course referring to Ryan and Desmond."
As he reports in the the video at the top of the post, Gaylord travelled to North Africa last summer and arranged meetings with a number of musicians. One of them was a "soft-spoken, modest, and incredibly thoughtful" young Moroccan named Mouad Belghouat, otherwise known as The Angry One. He and Gaylord are currently collaborating on a new track.
For Chergui, who plays guitar and oud, the real impetus for his Arabic music class was his own experience when he was in his students’ position. "I remember when I was learning English," he says, “that playing English songs, like Bob Dylan and the Beatles, helped me a lot.”
Chergui figured that Arabic songs would help his students in the same way, and Gaylord reports that, indeed, they did. “Words that I know from songs that I cover, I never forget. Whenever those come up, like I hear them on a radio broadcast or I see them on a test, I think, oh, got that one, no problem."
Gaylord also developed an ear for hip-hop, thanks to the raw passion and political urgency of the Arabic tracks. When the musician behind it is “getting jailed for speaking his mind,” Gaylord says, “the act of covering a song takes on so much more meaning.” Nothing by Kanye West had ever seemed so meaningful.
But there’s another very basic difference between Gaylord’s experience of American and Arabic rap—he never had to listen as closely to Kanye as he did to the Arabic tracks he covered. In their musical detail, Gaylord’s covers are quite attentive to the original. They represent impressive acts of listening and deciphering, and it’s hard to be indifferent when you’re paying such close attention. There’s an impressive act of listening behind the performances, too. These were, after all, intermediate-level students working at the limit of their comprehension, dealing with thickets of colloquial language in an unfamiliar dialect, but they absorbed enough to give a performance that's both passionate and credible to native speakers.
When the Arabic songs that Gaylord, Major, Nemeh and Lee recorded were posted on the internet, they became conspicuous acts of listening. That must have been one of the messages they transmitted to the other side of the world—someone in America is listening, not covertly but conspicuously, and with admiration.
(photo by Yumian Deng *)
David Gatten, Lecturing Fellow and Artist in Residence in Duke’s Arts of the Moving Image program, is one of the foremost filmmakers of his generation. Since 1996, his work has been shown throughout the world, in dozens of solo exhibitions and over 1000 group shows. The 2011 exhibition Texts of Light: A Mid-Career Retrospective of Fourteen Films by David Gatten is a testament to the consistent quality and impact of his work. After its opening at the Wexner Center for the Arts, it travelled to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC and other major venues on both coasts. In 2012 he made two “fifty best” lists—Cinemascope named him one of the year’s "Fifty Best Filmmakers Under Fifty,” along with Wes Anderson, David Fincher, and Quentin Tarantino. In Film Comment, his new film, The Extravagant Shadows, appeared on an international film critics’ poll of the "50 Best Undistributed Films of 2012."
Like Gatten, his Arts of the Moving Image colleague Josh Gibson is still making movies on film, not just because of its look but also because of its feel—for him, "film is a mystical, magical process," and digital video is no substitute. Gibson's 20-minute black-and-white documentary, "Kudzu Vine," debuted at the 2011 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham and went on to win numerous awards on the festival circuit. As Eric Ferreri noted last summer, it was the beginning of "a hot streak" for Gibson, whose films garnered 14 major festival awards in a three year period.
Josh Gibson shooting kudzu (photo courtesy Josh Gibson)
Duke filmmakers have been a conspicuous presence of late at the prestigious New York Film Festival. Over the past three years, the festival's "Views From the Avant-Garde" series has included films by Gatten and Gibson, fellow AMI faculty member Shambhavi Kaul, Erin Espelie from the Center for Documentary Studies, and MFAEDA students Marika Borgeson, Talena Sanders, and Lisa McCarty.
Gatten’s work is typically described as experimental, and the word turns out to be unusually accurate. One of his earliest films, for instance, answers this question: what happens if, instead of putting my film in a camera, I throw it into the ocean for a while? That piece, What the Water Said, reflects his fascination with the film’s surface. His other consistent interest, the printed word, is expressed in an ongoing series of films drawing on the library and life of William Byrd II, the 18th-century Virginian who founded the city of Richmond. “Using traditional research methods (reading old books) and non-traditional film processes (boiling old books),” Gatten writes, “the films trace the contours of private lives and public histories, combining philosophy, biography and poetry with experiments in cinematic forms and narrative structures.”
Gatten joined the Duke faculty in 2010, with a Visiting Artist Grant from the Council for the Arts that turned into a permanent position. It was something of a homecoming—Gatten was born in Michigan but spent most of his childhood in North Carolina, from age seven through his college years at UNC-Greensboro. His wife, filmmaker and writer Erin Espelie, is on the faculty of Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, and they divide their time between Durham and their studio in an old gold mining cabin in Colorado.
At Duke, Gatten has proved to be a dedicated and innovative teacher. He has been a key presence guiding and inspiring the inaugural cohorts in Duke’s MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts program. At the same time, he has developed new film-studies courses for undergraduates with the same "rigor and attention to creating an indelible experience that characterize his own filmmaking," as Holly Willis wrote in Filmmaker magazine last spring. The courses are conceived as semester-long compositions that present cinema in dialog with music, poetry, literature, and philosophy.
This spring Duke's Visiting Artist Program includes a dance troupe from Brooklyn, a theater director from Duke (class of '98), music residencies featuring the premier of a new setting of St. Luke's Passion and three exceptional ensembles who will work with Duke composition students.
The goal of the Visiting Artist Program is to support projects that will enrich the life of the university and broader community, augment the curricular efforts of a range of departments and programs, facilitate the interaction of artists and scholars, foster the reputation of Duke University as a place where the arts are vital and diverse, and contribute to the arts as a whole.
The New York based new-music sextet yMusic will make its final visit to Duke this spring to conclude its work with students in Duke's graduate composition program, rehearsing and recording their works in the newly renovated Baldwin Auditorium.
Imani Winds & The Hilliard Ensemble
Two other top-flight ensembles will also work with Duke's student composers this year — Imani Winds, an energetic American woodwind quintet and The Hilliard Ensemble, a vocal quartet renowned for bringing the pristine blend of Renaissance polyphony to music both new and old. Both groups will prepare and record new pieces composed by Duke Music Department graduate composition students, and Imani Winds will participate in a rehearsal with the Duke Wind Symphony, providing feedback to the student musicians.
These three residencies will provide Duke's up-and-coming composers with an exceptional opportunity for professional and musical development. Produced by Duke Performances in cooperation with Duke Music Department.
Urban Bush Women
The two-week residency by the world-renowned, Brooklyn-based contemporary dance company Urban Bush Women will culminate in the world premiere of Walking With 'Trane, a piece created by the company's artistic director, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, and inspired by John Coltrane's magnificent jazz suite, A Love Supreme.
The company will also be on hand to participate in "Dancing the African Diaspora — Theories of Black Performance," a symposium organized by SLIPPAGE: Performance|Culture|Technology, the research group founded by Dance Program faculty member Thomas DeFrantz. The three-day event starts on February 7.
Other residency events will include master classes, a workshop for dance composition students, open rehearsals, and visits to dance courses. Outreach visits to local Durham public schools, Hillside and Riverside high schools, are planned as well, with Duke dance students shadowing company members in order to learn their community engagement techniques. The residency by Urban Bush Women is produced by Duke Performances in cooperation with Duke's Dance Program.
The three-week residency of the OBIE-winning theater company Hoi Polloi will be a homecoming for its founder and artistic director, Alec Duffy, who is a 1998 Duke graduate. The residency centers on the premiere of Republic, a work that has emerged from Plato's famous treatise over the course of a two-year collaboration between Duffy and Duke's Department of Theater Studies.
The residency will feature class visits and masterclasses in acting and devised theater with Duffy and members of the company, joined at times by the playwright Noah Mease, who is adapting the piece into contemporary language. The company's public events will include open rehearsals and a public conversation exploring the themes of the play. The residency by Hoi Polloi is produced by Duke Performances in cooperation with Duke’s Department of Theater Studies.
April 2014 • Event Site
Performance on April 13
The spring residency by Scottish composer and conductor James MacMillan builds on his two-year collaboration with members of Duke's Divinity School and the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. The residency here is organized under the auspices of DITA (Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts), a Divinity School initiative that promotes the mutual enrichment of theology and the arts.
The highlight of the residency will be the April 13 premier in Duke Chapel of MacMillan's setting of the St. Luke Passion, performed by the combined forces of the Duke Chapel Choir, Durham Children's Choir, and Orchestra Pro Cantores, conducted by Rodney Wynkoop. The composer will participate in the final rehearsals, where he will discuss the work and its creation with the performers.
In addition to the main event, there will be a performance of MacMillan's Kiss on Wood, for cello and piano, as well as public lectures, panel discussions, and a composition masterclass.
Shahzia Sikander by J Caldwell for the Nasher Museum of Art
By Wendy Hower
One reason contemporary art is exciting is that we can sometimes meet an artist and learn the stories behind the work.
Artist Shahzia Sikander visited the Nasher Museum in mid November 2013 as part of a Visiting Artist Grant from the Council for the Arts and the Office of the Vice Provost for the Arts. Her connection to Duke was the Nasher Museum’s exhibition Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape, and Islamic Art, on view August 29 - December 31, 2013. The story though, begins in 2008, when Sikander took part in a residency at Doris Duke’s Honolulu estate, Shangri La. There, she created large-scale projections of her own abstract drawings, transforming elements of the architecture and landscape at night. Photographs of those projections were included in the Shangri La exhibition.
We asked Sikander to tell us about one of her mysterious projections, a multi-armed female form.
“The projection is a metaphor for Doris Duke herself,” Shahzia said, in her talk. “Mythical, majestic, monumental, rising from the Mughal Suite looming over Shangri La, overlooking the formidable Pacific where her ashes were sprinkled. The paradox of Shangri La is omnipresent. With its American Orientalism, stunning craftwork and collections from many Muslim cultures, it is engaging while full of contradiction.”
During her residency, Sikander met with Duke Professors Pedro Lasch and Kristine Stiles and their students. One afternoon, she took part in a critical review of work presented by students in Duke’s MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts program. She also gave a public talk at the Nasher Museum about her work, where she took issue with the term “Islamic Art,” part of the subtitle of the exhibition.
“I find the definition for traditional Islamic or contemporary Islamic art or just Islamic art to be problematic and a misnomer as it encompasses far too much to be an apt representation of any sort. Muslim communities have varied histories and geographical locations that challenge singular definitions. If traditional Islamic art's implication is all of the art made by artists and artisans who may or may have not practiced Islam, but who are part of Islamic cultures of several centuries and over large geographical territories, then reducing such enormous complexity into a definition such as Islamic art is confounding. As well as in today's transnational ways of living and being, such a framework feels even more restrictive; on the other hand, a quest to define an Islamic identity in the contemporary visual context may also be a paradox in and of itself.”
Originally from Pakistan, Sikander now lives and works in New York. She was a 2006 MacArthur Fellow and studied at the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, and the Rhode Island School of Design. Her visit and her comments about Islamic Art and the Nasher Museum's exhibition are documented in the video that follows.
The Los Angeles launch of Duke Forward took place at the Lowe’s Hollywood Hotel on November 23 in downtown LA.
Over 500 Duke alumni attended this seven-hour event, which included a brilliant keynote talk by evolutionary anthropologist David Hare, academic sessions that focused on Global Finance, China, Dan Ariely’s work in behavioral economics, the growth in the Arts at Duke, and a powerful speech by Duke University president Richard Brodhead, who made a strong case for continued investment in Duke. An audible gasp of amazement could be heard in the audience when a slide of the newly renovated Baldwin Auditorium was shown.
The arts session consisted of a panel discussion with five Duke alumni and students, moderated by the distinguished film and television music composer Patrick Williams '61, Hon. '01. Ryan Gaylord '15 and Ray Liu '14, two Duke students, spoke about their work in the arts, and social justice and education in the Middle East and China. Ryan showed his Arabic rap music video in which he and three collaborators covered the song “No to Dictatorship,” an inspiring anthem of resistance to Sudan's authoritarian regime. The video, which emerged from a class that used music to teach Arabic, is a powerful example for how art in the curriculum can create meaningful engagement with complex social and political issues such as those that characterize the Arab Spring (see the related article, "Ryan Gaylord's Conspicuous Acts of Listening").
Ray spoke about his work in the arts and education during the DukeEngage Zhuhai program in China and Duke IDEAS (Instructional Development for Excellence And Success) – Growth Through Dance project in Beijing. He shared his belief that dance can not only provide a means of cross cultural communication, but also help young students cultivate critical thinking through self-expression. Sarah Goetz, a 2011 Visual Studies graduate, spoke about her installation work, which makes use of new technologies that enable dynamic interaction between viewers and art works, and Nathaniel Hill, who graduated i 2012 from the Theater Studies and now works as a theatrical producer in New York, spoke about mounting a major production of the musical Ragtime at Duke during his senior year. This show entailed collaboration between Theater Studies, Music, Dance, Hoof ‘n’ Horn, and the Duke Chamber Players, a cast and crew of over 100 students, and drew more than 4,000 audience members during the run of the show.
Alumni attending this session saw how the Duke arts scene is operating on an entirely new level since their days on campus. They were impressed by the expansive vision for the arts as demonstrated by our student and alumni panel.
We will channel this energy into the Duke in Los Angeles program by sending our gifted arts students to intern and grow as arts professionals, by enlisting the participation of our DEMAN (Duke Entertainment, Media and the Arts Network) alumni in Los Angeles in this process, and by continuing to build rich cultural experiences in the one of the most globalized arts centers in the world.
Photos by Duke Photography.