Storytime with Nick and Phyllis

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Nick Cave and Phyllis Galembo had never met before this weekend, but they’re now calling themselves an “art couple.” Their art has been paired together for the Halsey’s new exhibit Call and Response. Cave’s Soundsuits and Galembo’s photographs of Africans in masquerade complement each other perfectly.

During their individual lectures and Q&A sessions Saturday afternoon, we were able to draw more parallels between the two, besides the obvious African connection and masquerade themes. For instance, they both find inspiration in flea markets. Also, neither of them are really planners — the art just kind of happens.

Here’s what else we learned from Phyllis:


  • She travels alone. Well, besides a native assistant to help her communicate with her subjects. She admits that the dynamics are definitely different as a woman photographing African men. But, she said, “Maybe being a woman is a good thing as a photographer.” However they perceive her, they are not threatened by her.
  • She doesn’t just stumble on these costumes. She seeks out events where masquerades are common, such as New Year’s parades, funerals, and festivals. She sometimes meets with village leaders to gain access to subjects. She says that 95 percent of the time, her camera is welcomed.
  • She considers herself a capturer rather than a creator. “I work with material to bring it to life,” she said.
  • She’s tight with David Byrne. “Everybody should have a rock star friend.”
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And from Nick:


  • The Halsey has been trying to bring Cave to Charleston for more than five years. When they couldn’t find enough support in the community, Spoleto made it happen. Sloane hopes this exhibit will encourage the community to support a return visit from Cave in the future. He even mentioned the possibility of the Burke High School marching band decked out in Soundsuits for Opening Ceremonies. How cool would that be?
  • All of the Soundsuits in Call and Response were created specifically for this show. Each piece takes approximately three weeks to a month. Cave has a team of 10 assistants to help him put together his creations.
  • It’s all about the impulse. When he’s scouring flea markets across the country, Cave never knows what will grab his attention. But when something does, he honors it, like the giant pink bunny crowning one of the suits. “It’s just so bad, it’s that much better,” he said.
  • "This is the opposite of me,” he said, gesturing at the Soundsuits. “I’m all black, brown, and gray every day ... I’m put here to deliver these deeds and move on to my next assignment. I’m not responsible for this work.”

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