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Celebrating freedom, culture and power of the durag
June 15 festival at Camp North End
Published Thursday, June 13, 2019 8:17 am
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Dammit Wesley, right, creative director of June 15’s Durag Fest, solicited the input of artist Mishelle to create an exhibit around the head coverings.

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A concept for an exhibit created a festival celebrating black culture.

Durag Fest returns to Camp North End (1776 Statesville Ave.) on June 15 in celebration of Juneteenth commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

“The backbone of any metropolis in America is how they embrace their culture,” said Dammit Wesley, creative director of Durag Fest and co-owner of BLKMRKT, a gallery and studio space at Camp North End. “There’s very distinct looks and behaviors of people in a place like Atlanta, a place like New York, a place like Los Angeles. Durag Fest Charlotte is one of the few times you get to see people embrace these very specific aesthetics and behaviors.

“Durag Festival, just the idea of using the durag as a garment itself, pushing you to be very crafty and have a lot of ingenuity on how you express yourself visually in this space. Just by us giving people a challenge more or less to come out in a durag, a hair garment, a hair tie—turn that into a fashion look or a fashion statement for an underrepresented and misrepresented holiday for the American lexicon. It means a lot, and also it is very empowering, not only to minorities, but to people who are outside of the culture and are part of the majority to see these things within their city that they didn’t know existed.”

The second annual festival highlights art, music, fashion, food and drink, but this is a festival where the attendees create the experience. Activities like wave check allow participants compete for the Best Waves on the mainstage. Folks can stop by eXplicit Salon for fresh fades, or head over to Twerksanity for a twerk class with @biglipbonita and @babyhairprincess.

Dammit Wesley approached Mishelle about the concept of creating an exhibit around durags after seeing her work during the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“She had all these girls walking down the streets in Barbie boxes, and I’m like, ‘hey, that’s cool. I need you to come to a meeting at my studio, because there’s something special about you,’” Dammit Wesley said.

Mishelle agreed to help, and they brought DJ Fannie Mae on board to add music to their vision.

“We really started around this idea of art and the durag, and then as we started to collaborate, putting all this other stuff together.”

Additional layers crept in, from a fashion show to food and beyond.

“Now it’s more than an art exhibit,” Mishelle said. “As we started to add all these elements, it was like, ‘this is not really an exhibit anymore. This is a festival. Let’s just call it a festival.’”

They expected 300 people. Over 1,200 participated in last year’s inaugural festival.

“We put it out there, and black Twitter ran with it,” Dammit Wesley said.

The initial experience was designed to engage people who are unfamiliar with the culture and Juneteenth.

“I intentionally asked that we place Durag Fest on a Friday, because I know for a fact that Camp North End has a lot of block parties out here, and I know there’s a very evident divide in the demographics who show up for the block parties, and the people who will show up to my studio for a Durag Festival. Since we were smack dab in the middle of the alleyway, there were a lot of white families that had to pass by and experience the Juneteenth celebration. The number of kids that I heard walk by and refer to the people in durags as princesses and Wakandans was amazing—a little heartwarming.”

Said Mishelle: “That changes the context and the conversation, which is really what it’s all about—taking back the narrative, and saying, ‘this is just a part of our culture.’”

Said Dammit Wesley: “Dismiss the stereotypes.”


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