Duke Performances

In Conversation: Tift Merritt & Allison Russell

Friday, April 16, 2021 | 12:00 pm


Hungry River is a performance collaboration between Tift Merritt, Allison Russell (Our Native Daughters, Birds of Chicago) that explores the emotional history of formerly segregated mental asylums in North Carolina and the prophetic importance of the people who lived their lives there. Through song and monologue, ceremony and storytelling, this community history helps us understand not only the asylum’s past but also how that past informs the ways we view race relations, poverty, criminalized margins, and the stigma of mental illness today.

Hungry River began as a collection of objects — a language of abandoned essential knowledge — from asylums across North Carolina. Within were much more than the simplistic diagnoses left in medical archives — sickness, heartbreak, poverty, loss of a child, the war, pregnancy — but appropriate responses to a mad, flawed world. A young woman’s grave covered in pine branches, a photograph of a WWI veteran in a velvet suit, the hospital brass band, river roots from an unmarked graveyard, a moth caught for decades in an intake record — Hungry River travels lyrical presences in archived materials, buildings, collective memory and a forgotten box of photographs seeking how best to reconnect and care for lost stories.

As part of Duke Performances’ and Duke Arts’ In Conversation series this spring, the artists will offer an introduction to the many components of Hungry River. This work-in-process showing functions as the first of many invitations for shared narrative and community response — a framework and sounding call for this site as catalysts for art and study and a rare opportunity to explore memory, trauma and resilience.

Friday, April 16, 2021
12-1 PM ET
Vimeo (Link)
Free and open to the public

Co-sponsored by Duke Arts and the Forum for Scholars and Publics at Duke University.
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