3 Creative Durham Artists You Should Know

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Photo by Beth Mann.

Saleem Reshamwala

Saleem Reshamwala’s bio starts, “I travel the world and make things with crazy teams of amazing freelancers. Mostly videos.”  

“North Cack” – a hip-hop video he directed for G Yamazawa – has eclipsed 800,000 views.

He was Emmy nominated for “Who, Me? Biased?” while working with The New York Times.

But long before that, he was the ethnic kid at Apex High School.

When Saleem glossed himself “Kid Ethnic” in the early ’90s, he never thought he’d still be using it decades later. The moniker is his website URL and social media handle. He called himself “Kid Ethnic” because frequently in his high school scene, he was the only mixed-race person.

While he was still in high school, Saleem’s father, a chemist, used a business connection to send the budding young soccer player not to the hoped-for summer soccer camp, but rather to Toluca, Distrito Federal, Mexico, to learn Spanish in an immersion environment, living with a local family just outside Mexico City and interning at a chemical factory.

It set the stage for a lifetime of travel.

Saleem graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism while double majoring in philosophy.

After college, he landed in New York City. He found himself working the typical New York City triple-gig life: at a Blockbuster, for a shipping company in Queens and teaching SAT prep in Manhattan.

When an opportunity opened for an art assistant at Seventeen magazine, Saleem leaped, even though it wasn’t his dream job.

“It paid way better than Blockbuster,” he says, adding that, when he started, his title could have been “freelance scanner operator.”

But he shares that it was an amazing opportunity to work for top-notch professionals in their field. 

He worked under several art directors. He learned how to roll with regime change and work to a high standard.

After New York City, he wanted to polish his Japanese so he moved to Japan. He taught for the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program for three years.

Next he worked on the Peace Boat, a Japanese NGO that spends its days traveling from international port to international port promoting peace, human rights and sustainable development.

Saleem circumnavigated the globe twice with Peace Boat. On the first voyage he served as a trilingual language teacher and occasional translator. On the second mission, he was able to use his filmmaking skills as a web reporter.

On Easter Island, he spent the entire day filming in a garbage dump.

In Colombia, he filmed female victims of the country’s guerilla warfare.

It wasn’t long after the second voyage ended that the tsunami roiled Japan. With radiation worries in the air, it seemed like a good time to head back to the States.

Soon after arriving in Durham, Saleem was sitting outside a showcase at Casbah when a guy poked his head outside the door and asked if he wanted to see the last act. When he nodded, the fellow said, “Good, it’s me.”

Professor Toon was a rapper.

Before long they were in contact over social media. With Jason Ho, Saleem filmed his first hip-hop video, Toon’s “Hulk Smash.” It went viral in our hip community. Soon Saleem was shooting Kickstarter videos for the original Cocoa Cinnamon, The Art of Cool, The Parlour and Beyù Caffè. He shot the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau’s “Welcome to Durham, NC” video, which was named a North American Travel Journalists Association award finalist.

When he heard Durham had a Japanese poet-rapper that he hadn’t met, Saleem found G Yamazawa on Twitter. They hit it off and made the video for “Dining Room,” which tells the story of the Yamazawa family’s iconic Japanese restaurant in Woodcroft, Yamazushi.

Saleem’s next video with G and Durham’s Joshua Gunn, aka J. Gunn, won a national hip-hop award and garnered almost a million views.

Saleem says he enjoys studying things that are outside of the current trends, watching overlooked films, like the “Killer of Sheep” which he recently saw at the Hayti Heritage Center. Saleem confesses that “doing weird experimental work” and exploring film as a way to “sketch out an idea” relieves the tension of making things, where “polish” can make a filmmaker “less fearless.”

His most recent hip-hop video, Young Bull’s “We Up,” is a demonstration. Shot forwards in one single, continuous take, outdoors, it is screened backwards to create a vivid, imaginary landscape where things come apart and together in manner that feels like an optical illusion.

Blending his journalistic and filmmaking backgrounds, his next big project, with hip-hop star Shirlette Ammons, is “How to be Mayor,” which was shot during Durham’s latest mayoral election. Backed by the Southern Documentary Fund, it is a work in progress that aims to examine policy and process in the Bull City through a hip-hop lens. 

Keep your eye on Kid Ethnic’s social media for an inkling of what Saleem’s up to next. Just last month he was filming Durham rapper Defacto Thezpian in the middle of the intersection adjacent to Cocoa Cinnamon at 5:30 a.m. Saleem can also frequently be found providing visuals for DJ Rang’s Bollywood/Bhangra dance parties.

Candy Carver

Photo by Beth Mann

For those who complain that too much emphasis is placed on what happens in downtown and not enough on what happens in the “rest” of Durham, artist Candy Carver is a breath of fresh air.

Because while her work is all over the center of city – she’s even painted on the streets of the downtown loop right outside Viceroy – Candy lives way out on East Geer Street and Cheek Road. Far enough out that the “Durham City Limits” sign is visible when I pull into
her neighborhood.

Her home is her studio. She treasures the freedom it offers. Candy tells me when she wanted to paint on the wall of her studio, she just “did.” Her paint-splattered coffee table is covered with scrawled affirmations.

She has an artist’s restlessness, and her brush is in motion for nearly the entire two hours that we are together, painting a canvas, a rock, her nails.

Candy grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, and spent her summers with her grandmother in Durham’s Walltown. She took numerous art classes as a kid, but then only one in college. As a young black woman at Indiana University South Bend, Candy says she felt like an “oddball” as an artist. “I felt out of place and different,” she says. “Attending college was lonely. I was usually the only black person in my classes and one of few on campus.”

She ended up studying education.

After moving to Durham for good in 2007, she taught fifth grade for several years at R.N. Harris Elementary. It didn’t work out. After a series of jobs: the Durham Center for Senior Life – which she loved; nannying – which paid better than teaching; and Time Warner Cable sales – which “felt dishonest;” she picked up her brushes again.

At first, Candy didn’t want to show her work to anyone. She said three friends transformed her life.

Jason Rhyne wouldn’t let her quit. He kept providing her encouragement, kept telling her that her work was good. Jonathan McDougald, on his own initiative, made her business cards and built her a professional website. Clayton Mack found Candy her first show at Looking Glass Cafe in Carrboro.

Candy says they insisted, “This is what you are. This is what you are going to do.” And then sent her on her way, to go and be.

Candy is conscious of her subject matter. Growing up she saw – and far too often still sees – black and brown subjects depicted as destitute, beat down, shown in defeat, at bus stops, on park benches, slumped, slouched. Candy feels popular art spaces latched on to these motifs.

Her work, conversely, is filled with bright colors, proudly displayed curves and joyous postures. “Bodies that look like people I know,” she says. “Colors that feel good.”

Candy and her paintings are everywhere. Besides the aforementioned street painting, commissioned by Durham Stormwater Services, she was just selected by the Durham Neighborhood Park Mural Project for a painting commission on the traffic control box found at the intersection of Chapel Hill, Morris and Main streets. Candy also created the cover for the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau’s (DCVB) Summer Activity Guide. Another of Candy’s storm drain paintings can also be seen outside Lakewood Elementary School on Vesson Avenue.  

She is teaching adult art classes at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, a summer camp for creatives at American Underground and a week of classes at the North Carolina Museum of Art. For Third Friday in August, Candy will be showcasing her work at the DCVB. You can also catch her solo show at the North Carolina School of Science and Math or see her at CenterFest in September.  

As our interview ends, Candy points at her heart and says, “Inside of here will tell me the right things to do.” She pauses and adds, “But I realized it first in art, before life. When I let go and trust.” 

Photo by Beth Mann.

Anna Barker

Anna Barker is a proud product of Durham Public Schools. But it almost didn’t turn out that way. Anna was set to attend the brand-new East Chapel Hill High School, much to her disappointment; her friends were districted to attend the older and more established Chapel Hill High School, and the newer high school seemed devoid of character to young Anna, lacking an emphasis on theater and creative outlets. As a performer, she was distraught.

Days later, her mother was sitting at the dentist’s office in Durham. The public access channel was on the TV. A public service announcement about Durham School of the Arts (DSA) came across the screen. It described the lottery application process. Anna’s mother, unfamiliar with the school, furiously scratched down the details.

“DSA saved my life,” Anna says.

Anna is a dance theater artist with tremendous comedic talent. She credits DSA mentors, teachers Carl Martin and Doug Graves, with starting her on that road. “They figured out what I was good at and put me in those roles,” she says. It rarely meant Anna was the lead. Rather, she was cast as the comedic foil or the villain. She played hunchbacks, old men, witches and drunks. Senior year, she was Miss Hannigan in Annie, which is fitting – Carol Burnett and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss are the kind of uber-expressive, facially kinetic, physical comedians she evokes now. This also helped Anna develop as a person, because it made her less competitive.

“I realized that not getting the lead role didn’t mean failure,” she says. 

Anna, who had been in dance classes and theater camps since she was a small child, gained confidence in her comedic talents and physical expressivity while in high school. She also realized she wanted to choreograph and produce shows. This led her to the prestigious dance program at Temple University in Philadelphia, which emphasizes composition and choreography over strictly performance-based fine arts education. Anna produced her own show as her senior thesis. She also double-majored in psychology. People have always fascinated her, she confesses. Today her goal as an artist is “to invite audiences to view everyday life through the lens of modern dance.”

From Philadelphia, it was on to New York City. A gifted storyteller with an incredibly expressive face, she told me that shortly after arriving in the Big Apple, she was stuck underground for 45 minutes in a subway car. As she tells it, rather than hostile silence, strangers suddenly broke into conversation. 

“It really felt like we were all in it together. There was a camaraderie that I hadn’t experienced before and I really appreciated.”  This idea that “we are all in the same space together” underpins Anna’s work. The mission of her dance company, Real. Live. People., is accessibility.

Her most recent production, “Again, but this time with feeling” premiered in June at the Living Arts Collective to rave reviews. It was a show about deep, personal, human failure. Yet it was laugh-out-loud funny. Diving into themes like mansplaining, dating, restaurant work and job searching, Anna admits, “I exposed parts of my psyche.”

The comedy in the show is actually far from humorous underneath it all. Her goal is to explore the human condition, our inherent social and interpersonal existence, through idiosyncratic movement and gesture. Engagement with Anna’s work means processing boorishness, awkwardness and the resulting tension. If we can laugh about it, we can learn from it, and move forward.

In the fall, Anna and collaborator Leah Wilks will be staging her production, “Feature Presentation,” at Temple. She also has performances and productions on the horizon at Duke University and in New York City in 2019.

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